U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has finalized a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies, Inc. for the development of a multicrystalline wafer manufacturing project that could drive down the costs of solar manufacturing, making solar a more viable energy option.
The project will be capable of producing approximately 700 to 1,000 megawatts (MW) of silicon-based wafers annually using a revolutionary manufacturing process called Direct Wafer.
This process could reduce manufacturing costs of the wafers by approximately 50%, dramatically cutting the cost of solar power. Phase 1 of the project will be located in Lexington, Massachusetts and is expected to fund 70 permanent jobs and 50 construction jobs. The company is evaluating site locations for another planned phase, which they anticipate will fund hundreds of additional jobs.
“This project is a good example of how investments in American innovation can create jobs and make our manufacturing industry more competitive,” says Secretary Chu. “This type of pioneering technology is needed to compete and thrive in the global race for solar manufacturing, a market worth billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs in the years ahead.”
The innovative manufacturing process reduces four separate manufacturing steps into a single, low cost continuous process and greatly reduces silicon waste by forming individual wafers directly from a bath of molten silicon.
A thin sheet of silicon freezes inside the direct wafer furnace and is then removed and laser-trimmed to size.
At full production, the entire wafer formation process is completed in just 25 seconds when compared to conventional batch processing, which can take up to three days. The company’s revolutionary one-step process requires 90% less energy and results in an industry-standard product that can be used by multicrystalline cell manufacturers.