As sun sets on DuPont, there's still a bright future for Hong Kong's solar researchers

Research into solar technologies need not be hindered by chemical giant's exit, say experts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 4:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 4:50am

The retreat of chemical giant DuPont from solar energy research in Hong Kong should not hinder the city's quest for greater technological capabilities, research industry insiders say.

The US firm is discontinuing the solar business of its wholly owned subsidiary, solar module developer DuPont Apollo, from the city at the end of this year.

"There are bound to be risks associated with emerging technologies," Science Park board member Lo Wai-kwok said. "There is never any guarantee of business success when it comes to innovation. But a company's decision should not derail our strategy."

Lo, who is also the engineering-sector lawmaker, would not reveal if the Tai Po park had tried to retain its tenant, saying only that the multinational company would have weighed various factors in arriving at its decision.

The company's ongoing projects in Hong Kong include DuPont Apollo's HK$17 million research collaboration with the Nano and Advanced Materials Institute, to run until July.

The two parties completed HK$15 million of research in 2011. Both projects were funded by the government's innovation and technology support programme.

DuPont has also spent six years in a solar-panel venture as part of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Innovation Circle, an initiative of China's 11th five-year plan for 2006 to 2010.

That would be business as usual, the Innovation and Technology Commission, which administered the programme, said.

Under that initiative, four Hong Kong universities set up "industry, academic and research bases" in Shenzhen's Nanshan hi-tech zone in 2011.

An employee of DuPont described the solar venture as a "success" amid a bumpy market. "We have delivered some outstanding projects overseas," he said.

He also believed DuPont had trained a pool of talent in the field. "In fact, there has been much talent exchange among the solar energy firms," he said.

Polytechnic University Professor Eric Cheng Ka-wai, who studies applications of solar energy, said DuPont's retreat would not hamper research in Hong Kong. "There is much ongoing research in local universities and we are never short of talent."

DuPont had never targeted the Hong Kong solar energy market anyway, Cheng said, as the city did not have much room for such installations.

DuPont Apollo's first commercial customer for its thin-film solar panels was HK Electric, which spent HK$23 million for 5,500 pieces fitted on the roof of its Lamma power station.

DuPont also set up a demonstration project in Tseung Kwan O Hospital at its own cost.