HENDERSON, N.C. — A Durham semiconductor company plans to build a solar cell plant in Vance County that will employ more than 250 people within five years, officials said Tuesday.

Semprius will invest $89.7 million in the plant and could get up to $18.3 million in state and local grants if it meets investment and hiring targets.

The company has patented a manufacturing process in which semiconductors are printed on glass, plastic or other materials for use in solar panels, liquid-crystal displays, advanced disk drivers and other devices. The CIA and German industrial giant Siemens are among its investors.

“As the adoption of clean energy continues to gain momentum in the U.S. and abroad and demand for solar systems grows, the industry will look to innovators like Semprius and pioneer regions like North Carolina for viable solutions,” Semprius President and Chief Executive Joe Carr said in a statement.

Semprius’ high-concentration photovoltaic solar modules can focus the sun’s energy at more than 1,100 times onto tiny solar cells, which officials said lowers costs and increases efficiency for solar panel makers.

The 256 jobs at the plant will have an average salary of $45,565, plus benefits. The average salary in Vance County is $30,004.

Semprius qualified for a $600,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund, which provides cash grants to attract business projects to the state. No money is paid upfront, and companies must meet job and investment targets to obtain the funds.

The state Economic Investment Committee also voted Tuesday to award a Job Development Investment Grant to Semprius. Under the JDIG, the company can receive 61 percent of the state withholding taxes from the new jobs for each of the 11 years in which it meets annual performance targets, which could yield up to $3 million for the company.

Community college training, state sales tax exemptions and local incentives add another $12 million to the total, and the North Carolina Rural Center dedicated its largest grant to date for a single project, $550,000, to the plant.

Golden LEAF, the Rocky Mount-based foundation that funds rural development projects with money North Carolina receives from the national settlement with cigarette makers, also will provide $1.25 million for the Semprius plant.

Semprius is in the process of raising $30 million in new venture capital. The company has closed on $20 million in the current round, and it has said funds would be used to build a “pilot plant.” (Read more details here.)

Investors for Semprius include utility giant Siemens, which recently bought a 16 percent share of the company, Durham-based Intersouth Partners and In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA.

Semprius’ technology includes a patented manufacturing process that enables semiconductors to be printed onto glass, plastic or other materials for use in solar panels, liquid-crystal displays, advanced disk drivers and other devices.

Its process enables transistors to be formed on traditional silicon substrates that in turn can be sliced off and then mounted on flexible displays made of plastic, glass or other materials. The transistors could be produced as thin as 100 nanometers. (One nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter.)

The pilot plant would be built for production of its best-known product: solar panel modules. The goal is to prepare the way for large-scale production.

Semprius is banking on continuing growth in demand for solar power and says its technology enables production of “extremely tiny” photovoltaic cells that amplify sunlight “more than 1,000 times.” To help manufacturers, Semprius says its process can be used on existing equipment and with current commodity materials, thus cutting capital and other costs.

Reporters: Bruce Mildwurf, Rick Smith
Web Editor: Matthew Burns

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