April 06, 2011
By: by Larry Rulison, Business writer, Times Union
ALBANY -- The University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering has been awarded $57.5 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to create a solar manufacturing consortium that could rival what Sematech did for the computer chip industry and the city of Austin, Texas two decades ago.
The surprise announcement came just one day after U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer was at the college's Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road, urging the Obama Administration to award the NanoCollege and the University of Central Florida a $100 million grant that would be split between the two schools. They are partnering with the Sematech computer chip consortium to create the U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium. Photovoltaics are solar technologies like solar panels that generate electricity.
As it turns out, the NanoCollege was awarded $57.5 million -- more than the $50 million it was expecting -- while UCF will get a far smaller award of just $5 million.
Together, the package is $62.5 million. That's significantly less than the $100 million package the two schools had originally requested, although that didn't dampen Schumer's excitement. He was the first to break the news Tuesday afternoon -- even to the surprise of school officials.
"The future is very bright for solar energy research, development and jobs in Albany," Schumer said.
The NanoCollege has been comparing this new solar manufacturing consortium to the creation of Sematech in Austin in the late 1980s.
Sematech was funded by the federal government to fight Japan's growing computer chip industry. The new solar consortium would be used to unite the U.S. photovoltaic industry to better compete with China and Germany, two countries that are dominating solar manufacturing. Computer chips and solar technologies share many of the same manufacturing techniques and suppliers.
The NanoCollege and UCF had put together several hundred million dollars in additional private funding to match the federal grant. Alain Kaloyeros, the chief executive officer at the NanoCollege, said the consortium should have about $400 million in total funding to begin with. And the additional money coming to Albany should help spur private investment.
"This allows us to leverage significantly more investment," said Kaloyeros, who added that the consortium will seek additional funding for UCF.
One of the NanoCollege's main rivals for the money was expected to be the University of Toledo, which put together a proposal along with Dow Corning of Midland, Mich. Toledo is home to many solar manufacturing suppliers and even boasts a 900,000 square-foot solar factory operated by First Solar, an Arizona company whose technology was developed at Toledo.
However, late Tuesday the Department of Energy announced that a partnership between Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley was awarded $25 million, and another $25 million went to SVTC Technologies in San Jose, Calif.