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Natcore CEO on quest to have solar cells built in N.J., not China

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Natcore CEO Chuck Provini said he's hopeful he will find a New Jersey solar manufacturer by the time his latest solar cell technology is ready for mass production. (Natcore Technology)
Natcore CEO Chuck Provini said he's hopeful he will find a New Jersey solar manufacturer by the time his latest solar cell technology is ready for mass production. (Natcore Technology)

Chuck Provini, president and CEO of Red Bank-based Natcore Technology Inc., wants to keep the mass production of his firm's latest silicon solar cell technology in New Jersey, but he's having a hard time finding someone outside of China to do the job.

"I will always be passionate about doing business in the United States … and I want to figure out how to do it in New Jersey," Provini said. "I've gotten a lot of help from the lieutenant governor, but there's not much more she can do for us if there's no one in the solar cell manufacturing business or the chip manufacturing business here."

The roadblock isn't new to Provini, who formed a joint venture with China-based Chuangke Silicon Ltd. in 2010 to manufacture solar film-growth equipment after a long, and ultimately failed, search for a production partner based in the United States.

But Provini said he's more hopeful about finding a company in New Jersey to manufacture his Absolute Black silicon wafer solar cell component — which he said has near-zero reflectivity and can be produced at a lower cost than the best wafer on the market — that his firm developed at its facility in Rochester, N.Y.

However, Lyle Rawlings, president and CEO of Advanced Solar Products, in Flemington, said Provini won't have much luck in his local effort, since the state "has a lot of installers, but doesn't really have any solar manufacturers."

"We had one Italian company in Somerset — MX Group — that was in business for two years, but recently shut its doors, and I don't know if it has the potential to reopen," Rawlings said. "But if Natcore's technology really is good, I don't know if they would bother going out and find(ing) it."

But by the time the technology is ready to be fully commercialized, Provini said he expects China's solar bubble to burst, and more solar cell manufacturers to appear in the state.

"What China's doing right now is supporting the solar market by giving companies money to sell cheaper solar cells. Eventually, it will run out of money, and its hold on solar will not last," Provini said. "When the pendulum swings the other way, I hope to be on the other side with a manufacturer producing my technology."

Rawlings, however, said "there will be no dramatic swing away from China. China dominates the solar world right now and will continue to be a strong force, even if they won't be as dominant as they have been for two years."

While Rawlings couldn't say if Natcore's silicon solar cell is truly better than what's already available in the market, he said the company's tandem solar cell technology — which is still in the first phase of development — "would be a game changer and a dramatic improvement in the economics of solar if its claim to increase solar cell efficiency to 30 percent is true," since the best cells in today's market hover around 22 percent efficiency.

"U.S. solar manufacturing is struggling to compete with Chinese and Korean and Taiwanese manufacturers … so if this turns out to deliver on its promises and is deployed in the U.S. for a while at least, that may give U.S. manufacturing a leg up," Rawlings said.

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