innovalight.jpgJA Solar, one of China's biggest solar cell manufacturers, hopes to leapfrog its rivals using innovative “solar ink” manufacturing technnology from a Silicon Valley start-up.

The announcement is just the latest example of how Chinese tech firms are challenging the commonly-held prejudice in the west that Chinese businesses do not innovate.

Nasdaq-listed JA Solar is currently developing silicon ink-based solar cells at its R&D pilot line in Yangzhou with a view to commercialising the new cells in 2010.

The big advantage of the new cells is their conversion efficiency — up to 18% has been achieved in the labs — which means solar farm operators can generate more electricity from a given area of solar panels.

The silicon ink technology is similar to the that used in ink-jet printers and this technique eliminates a lot of the costly manufacturing steps need to make silicon cells by conventional means. It also allows the use of ultra thin crystaline wafers, so saving on silicon.

The technology was developed by Innovalight, a privately-held firm from Sunnyvale, California.

Innovalight has spent the last six years designing, developing and scaling its silicon ink technology. The silicon ink can be used for a variety of different applications, but Innovalight has focused solely on solar energy in order to accelerate its time to market.

JA Solar sells its components directly to photovoltaic system manufacturers in Canada, China, Germany and the US. It gets about three-quarters of its sales in China.

More JA Solar stories here.

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