Calisolar to build proprietary low-cost silicon solar wafers at US$600 million US plant

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Calisolar is making its move to become high-volume low-cost silicon solar wafer producer with plans to build a 16,000MT silicon production facility in Lowndes County, Mississippi at an estimated cost of US$600 million. A pioneer of enhanced UMG-based wafers, Calisolar is bring silicon material production in-house to significantly lower costs and have greater control over material quality. When fully operational, the plant is said to employ 951 full-time workers.

Despite three highly publicised bankruptcy announcements (Evergreen Solar, Spectrawatt and Solyndra) from solar firms based in the US in recent weeks and several PV module plant closures (BP Solar, Solon and SolarWorld) the US is home to three major polysilicon and wafer producers (Hemlock Semiconductor, MEMC and REC), which will be supplemented by Wacker Chemie on completion of its first polysilicon plant in the country.

The major investment by Calisolar has been supported by a US$75 million incentive package from the State of Mississippi as well as US$275 million conditional loan guarantee by the U.S. Energy Department (DOE). The DOE has also previously supported Calisolar in R&D programs to develop its low cost wafer technology. However, there were deadline issues attached with the DOE loan that originally applied to previous plans to build a plant in Ohio, which suggests alternative funding is being sourced. 

John Correnti, executive chairman of Calisolar's Board of Directors, said: “We've demonstrated that our low-cost silicon can produce high-performance solar cells, now sold commercially, which has been an important step in the growth of our company. Now, our focus is on expanding silicon production capacity — where we have the greatest competitive cost advantage — and achieving further cost savings.”

Calisolar previously acquired Canadian start-up 6N Silicon for its novel silicon refining expertise in 2010, which later that year attracted Suntech to partner in adding capacity at 6N’s plant in Ontario, Canada.

Metallurgical equipment and systems expert, SMS Siemag will supply the majority of the equipment including furnaces at the Mississippi facility, while Zachry Holdings will be engineering and building the facility, according to Calisolar.

Calisolar has small production plants in California and Ontario, Canada. The new facility was said to be required due to demand and the need to further scale operations to reduce production costs.

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