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Published: Tuesday, 11/6/2007

Perrysburg's Solar Fields bought by German concern

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

One company with strong metro Toledo ties is among the hottest prospects in the booming solar energy industry.

Now, a second local solar concern has attracted the attention of Europe's largest solar panel manufacturer, which has purchased the Perrysburg firm and intends to establish a research and development arm here.

Solar Fields LLC, Perrysburg, is being bought by Q-Cells AG, of Bitterfeld-Wolfen in Germany. The local firm, with offices at 12900 Eckel Junction Rd., has just nine employees who focus primarily on research.

Its chief accomplishment, however, is that it has developed machinery for the mass production of a new style of solar panels that hold promise of making energy from sunlight as cheap as that produced from fossil fuels.

Solar Fields, like First Solar Inc., is an outgrowth of solar-energy ventures of Toledo industrialist and glass-manufacturing pioneer Harold McMaster.

First Solar, which is based in Phoenix and has its only U.S. plant in Perrysburg Township, is the nation's largest producer of panels made with newer technology referred to as "thin-film." The firm's fast-rising shares have made billionaires of the heirs of Wal-Mart retailing scion John Walton, an early backer.

Solar Fields is owned by investors led by the late Toledo industrialists's widow, Helen McMaster. Norm Johnston, chief executive, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

But in a written statement, he said the deal was "an excellent opportunity to be associated with one of the world's most successful solar companies." Mr. Johnston, who previously held posts with Owens Corning and Pilkington PLC, is the inventor of the panel-coating technology used at Solar Fields.

Under the terms of the deal, Solar Fields' shareholders will receive $5 million plus 7 percent of the shares of Calyxo GmbH, a subsidiary of Q-Cells, according to a statement from the German company.

Solar Fields' patents, other property, and employees will transfer to a new subsidiary, Calyxo USA Inc.

Q-Cells has grow rapidly, with production up 42 percent in the first half of 2007 and annual revenues expected to reach $1.2 billion by the end of the year.

It is the world's second-largest manufacturer of solar panels, although its primary expertise is in traditional technology. Recently, it has made investments in a number of promising new "thin-film" manufacturing methods, including those used by the Perrysburg firm.

The sale is part of an extension of an agreement under which Solar Fields licensed technology to the German concern.

"Q-Cells has the broadest technology portfolio in the industry," said Stefan Dietrich, a company spokesman in Bitterfeld-Wolfen.

Solar Fields' early work was at a business incubator at the University of Toledo, which operates one of the nation's leading centers for research on solar-energy technology.

"Solar Fields has made some impressive accomplishments in terms of low-cost" manufacturing methods, said Robert Collins, director of UT's Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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