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Robert E. Lorenzini

  • Born: December 11, 1936, Boston, Massachusetts

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0375
Interview Date: September 17, 2007
Location: Menlo Park, California
No. of pages: 38
Minutes: 83

  Abstract of Interview

Robert Lorenzini begins the interview by briefly describing his childhood and studying metallurgy at Stanford University for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. After gradation Lorenzini was recruited by Rheem Semiconductors, where he adapted his master's thesis work on zone melting in metals to work with silicon. Lorenzini's efforts lead to Rheem's own crystal growing furnace and its ability to produce its own silicon wafers. Following brief stints at the Allegheny Electronics Chemical Company and Knapic Electrophysics, Lorenzini decided to capitalize on his reputation as a furnace designer and started Elmat Corporation. Building his first commercial furnace with a focus on speed and maximum operation uptime, Elmat quickly gained customers such as RCA and Texas Instruments. Elmat was eventually purchased by General Instruments in 1968 and Lorenzini founded the Siltec Corporation in 1969. With innovations such as the zero dislocation silicon technique Siltec quickly gained a stable costumer base. Lorenzini then described the delicate balance of working with supplying big semiconductor manufacturers with both equipment and silicon supplies. In the late 1980s, as the industry was going through a downturn, Siltec was acquired by Mitsubishi. Free to pursue other projects, Lorenzini got interested in photovoltaics and founded SunPower Corporation with Stanford professor Richard Swanson. Lorenzini concluded the interview by offering apositive outlook on the PV industry.


1958 B.S., Materials Science, Stanford University
1960 M.S., Materials Science, Stanford University

  Professional Experience

Rheem Semiconductors

1960 - 1962 Member of Technical Staff, Research and Development

Allegheny Electronic Chemical Company

1962 - 1963 Chief Engineer

Knapic Electrophysics

1963 - 1964 Chief Engineer

Elmat Corporation

1964 - 1968 President

Siltec Corporation

1969 - 1986 Chairman and CEO

SunPower Corporation

1988 - 2004 CEO, Chairman


1979 SEMI Award

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Early aptitude and interest in engineering and science. Moving from Boston to San Francisco to Evanston. Enrolling in Stanford University to study metallurgy.

Stanford University and Master's Thesis 3

Decision to stay at Stanford for graduate school. Curriculum and new research direction within the department. Thesis work on zone melting in metals.

Early career at Rheem Semiconductors and Allegheny Electronic Chemical Company 6

Recruitment by Leopoldo Valdes. Translating zone melting work from metals to silicon. Designing and building the crystal puller at Rheem. Pros and cons of flat zone method versus the Czochralski technique for crystal growing. Brief stint at Allegheny Electronic Chemical Company on the East Coast. Returning to Knapic Eletrophysics in California. Knapic's liquidation and purchasing part of its supplies for own startup.

Entrepreneurship with Elmat Corporation 14

Starting Elmat in 1964. Moving from RF to resistance heated growing furnaces. Designing a speed-oriented furnace. First Elmat customers and working relationships with them. SEMI standardization efforts. Basic Elmat operations. Dendritic germanium/ribbon growing technique. Purchase by General Instruments in 1968.

The Siltec Years 21

Developing the zero dislocation silicon technique. Competition and cooperation with bigger companies. Siltec company expansion model. Key technological advances during the Siltec years. Foreign competition and industry downturn. Siltec acquisition by Mitsubishi.

Venture Capital and Interests in Photovoltaics 28

Working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and introduction to Richard Swanson. Raising capital to start SunPower Corporation. Application of semiconductor manufacturing techniques and equipment to photovoltaics. Outlook on the PV industry.

Index 31

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