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Bay Area Artists Create Display From Discarded Solyndra Solar Tubes

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A view inside the SOL Grotto exhibit at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. (UC Berkeley)

A view inside the SOL Grotto exhibit at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. (UC Berkeley)

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BERKELEY (CBS SF) – A pair of Bay Area artists have found use for some of the millions of unused glass tubes from bankrupt Fremont solar power firm Solyndra.

Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello have used the specialized glass tubes to create an exhibit called “SOL Grotto” on the University of California at Berkeley campus. The exhibit is part of larger art installation called “Natural Discourse” at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.

The estimated 1,400 glass tubes used in the exhibit are just a fraction of the 24 million specialized glass tubes coated with a reflective substance to make Solyndra’s tubular solar panels, which differed from traditional flat panels.

KCBS’ Anna Duckworth Reports:

Plummeting silicon prices led to Solyndra being unable to compete with conventional solar panel firms despite the government’s $535 million loan, and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September of 2011.

Photo Gallery: Solyndra Solar Tube Sculpture

For the SOL Grotto (with SOL used as a wordplay on both Solyndra and an obscene phrase to describe an unfortunate situation) artists arranged the tubes in a wave-like pattern, embedded into the wall of a specially-built shed. The reflective-qualities of the tubes capture the light from the outside and illuminate the space inside the exhibit.

“The sound of a waterfall is present inside The SOL Grotto and the combination of sound, light, views and coolness filtering through the cracks in the flooring creates a highly sensorial space,” says a description of the exhibit on the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden website.

In January, CBS 5 learned hundreds of thousands of other Solyndra glass tubes were being systematically destroyed and dumped even though the company paid at least $2 million for the specialized and still owed the German company that made the tubes close to another $8 million.

Court documents showed the company received permission from the bankruptcy trustee to dump the high-grade glass because the cost of storing the tubes exceeded their value.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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