October 25, 2011
By: Larry Rulison, Business Writer
Source: Times Union
HALFMOON -- The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany has struck a deal to take over the former Veeco Instruments solar manufacturing research facility here, keeping 17 jobs intact after Veeco decided to exit the business earlier this year.
The move also keeps alive hope for a thriving solar industry in Saratoga County that was first envisioned when a California company called DayStar moved to the facility in 2004. DayStar had an $11 million state incentive package and promised to build a solar factory in neighboring Malta. But it failed and left the region in 2008.
The NanoCollege plans to use the 18,000-square-foot facility at the Capital Region Business Park off Route 9 for making prototypes of so-called "thin-film" solar cells that will be developed by its new U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium, a $400 million solar research and development program that won a $60 million federal grant earlier this year.
Saratoga County officials who attended the launch of what is being called the Solar Energy Development Center say they hope that the college's reputation and the consortium's considerable financial might would attract full-scale solar manufacturing facilities.
"When you have good R&D, manufacturing follows," said Dennis Brobston, president of Saratoga County Economic Development Corp., which works to attract companies to the county.
Veeco surprised the industry this summer when it announced it was going to take a $50 million charge to exit the business of making solar manufacturing equipment and off-load its Halfmoon facility to the NanoCollege. Veeco was also planning to be a major participant in the solar consortium.
"We may still participate, but as of this point, we are out of that business," said Veeco spokeswoman Debra Wasser.
Pradeep Haldar, vice president of Clean Energy Programs at the NanoCollege, said the rest of the industry has looked at Veeco's exit as an opportunity to gain more market share, which is why consortium members footed the bill for the facility. No government money was used, college officials say.
"We negotiated the terms with them, and we took over," said Haldar, who would not say how much the transfer cost.
It probably wasn't more than the $2 million that Veeco paid to DayStar several years ago for the pilot line when DayStar was looking to shed assets after moving back to California.
Haldar also says that the college will succeed where DayStar and Veeco failed because the consortium has broad industry support and financial backing.
"You need the consortium to make this a viable industry," Haldar said.
The Halfmoon facility is one of three the college is expecting to run as part of the solar consortium, including an R&D clean room facility at the Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road and possibly at a clean energy business incubator in downtown Albany, said NanoCollege chief executive Alain Kaloyeros.
The consortium is getting major backing from Sematech, the computer chip research consortium that moved earlier this year from Austin, Texas, to Albany NanoTech.
In its grant application to the Department of Energy, about a dozen Sematech executives pledged at least half, or in some cases all, of their time to solar consortium activities, which gives the appearance that Sematech is making a major push into solar research.