DOE Supports Project to Cut Silicon Solar PV Wafer Costs 50%

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Energy Secretary Steven Chu had a crowded slate Thursday as the DOE announced a series of clean energy financing initiatives aimed at spurring commercial development and job creation spanning solar power, offshore wind power, hydropower, geothermal power and electric vehicles (EV).

Aiming to drive down costs and make the US solar power industry more competitive, Secretary Chu finalized a conditional $150 million loan guarantee that will enable Lexington, Massachusetts’ 1366 Technologies to continue developing its multicrystalline Direct Wafer solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing project.

The Direct Wafer process holds the promise of producing approximately 700- to 1,000 megawatts (MW) of silicon-based wafers annually, reducing manufacturing costs by 50% and thereby significantly enhancing the competitiveness of a US company to compete globally against countries whose governments are aggressively supporting solar power industry development.

Phase I of the project is expected to create 70 permanent and 50 constructions jobs at the Lexington, Mass. project site. 1366 Technologies is evaluating potential locations for a second site at present., which management expects will result in creating hundreds more jobs.

“This project is a good example of how investments in American innovation can create jobs and make our manufacturing industry more competitive,” said 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 Direct Wafer manufacturing process reduces four separate manufacturing steps into “a single, low-cost continuous process and greatly reduces silicon waster by forming individual wafers directly from a bath of molten silicon,” the DOE news release explains. Frozen inside the Direct Wafer furnace, a thin sheet of silicon is then removed and trimmed by laser to size.

The entire wafer production process is completed in just 25 seconds. Conventional batch processing methods require up to three days. The Direct Wafer process also reduces energy consumption by 90% while producing an industry-standard silicon wafer that can be used by multicrystalline solar power cell manufacturers.

A $4 million grant from the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency and a $3 million grant from its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funded 1366’s original Direct Wafer development work.

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