The price of silicon solar cells may have dropped dramatically over the past 10 years, but the technology for making them has not changed significantly in nearly 60 years. The conventional method involves making a rod of silicon material and then sawing off pieces to make solar cells. The sawing can waste up to 40% of the silicon in the rod, driving up costs. 1366 Technologies has created a whole new manufacturing process that cuts the cost of finished solar cells by 50% with much less waste and higher final quality. It is called the Direct Wafer process and is explained in detail in this video.
On February 26, 1366 Technologies announced that it has formed a partnership with Hanwha Q Cells. 1366 is about to complete construction of a Direct Wafer factory in Cyberjaya, Malaysia next door to Hanwha’s existing cell and module manufacturing facility. The two companies expect full scale commercial production to begin in the third quarter of 2019.
The resulting products are expected to dramatically lower the levelized cost of energy for the solar power industry, thanks to the new Direct Wafer process that can manufacture solar cells for about 20 cents a piece. 1366 Technologies has an agreement with Hanwha Q Cells to deliver up to 700 megawatts of solar cells, according to a report by PV Magazine.
In an e-mail to CleanTechnica, Laureen Sanderson, a spokesperson for 1366 Technologies, said, “Innovations like ours are a rare thing in the solar industry. The ingot-based wafer manufacturing processes of today are 50-60 years old and nearing their limitations on both cost and efficiency. Because we produce a wafer directly from molten silicon (rather than saw one from a cast ingot), we do not face the same challenges and can introduce a bevy of new wafer features impossible with conventional processes.”
One of the new technologies the Direct Wafer process has made possible is 3D Wafers — thin wafers with thick borders. According to a press release from 1366 Technologies, “While standard wafers grown from the melt are compelling on their own, the invention of a wafer that is thinner than the standard 180 microns in certain controlled regions but retains strong and robust edges to be used in conventional, or nearly conventional, photovoltaic applications has significant implications for the industry.
“It provides manufacturers with a solution to reduce silicon usage without compromising existing standards or quality and makes it possible to realize industry advancements in cell architecture or module features. Most importantly, the 3D Wafer capabilities of the Direct Wafer process will further reduce silicon utilization to less than 1.5 grams per watt to create a cost position unattainable with conventional ingot-based production technologies.”
Ji Weon (Daniel) Jeong, chief technology officer of Hanwha Q CELLS tells CleanTechnica, “At the heart of Hanwha Q CELLS’ global leadership is the pursuit of innovation and the exploration of new methods and technologies that can deliver the most value to our customers. In line with this commitment to customer value, Direct Wafer technology will innovate the manufacturing process and, as a result, the quality of the products manufactured.”
1366 Technologies maintains a demonstration facility at its research center in Bedford, Massachusetts. Its CEO, Frank van Mierlo, says, “2018 has been filled with extraordinary accomplishments. We have moved rapidly to fill the void in a wafer manufacturing industry that leaves little room for innovation and ignores the strategic potential of the solar cell’s most expensive component. We are thrilled to take this next step with Hanwha Q CELLS. It is a major milestone in a partnership already recognized for its numerous achievements.”
Higher quality solar cells at lower cost? That’s a breakthrough any fan of renewable energy can get excited about.
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