In the fifth award announcement regarding a solar project or company this week, the US Department of Energy said it has offered a conditional loan guarantee commitment of $150 million to 1366 Technologies to help the Lexington, MA-based silicon PV innovator to scale and expand manufacturing of its DirectWafer technology. The company plans to use the funds to bring its first plant, a 20MW facility in Massachusetts, online in 2013, and then to begin construction on a second 1GW plant that same year in an as-yet undetermined US location.
Once finalized, the federal loan guarantee will also lead to the eventual creation of hundreds of jobs, starting with 70 permanent and 50 construction positions during the ramp-up of the first factory.
Direct Wafer technology forms a 156mm multicrystalline wafer directly from molten silicon, replacing the standard wafer manufacturing practice which involves a multistep, batch process of ingot casting, blocking, squaring, and sawing. The company said its one-step approach, which uses standard silicon and produces industry-compatible wafers, uses 90% less energy than conventional processes and can lead to cost savings of up 50% of the high-value silicon.
Since its founding in 2008, 1366 Technologies has raised $46 million from equity investors. It has also received a $4 million grant from the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency and a $3 million grant from DOE’s Solar Energy Technology Program to support the development of the Direct Wafer technology.
“This project is a game-changer that could dramatically lower the cost of photovoltaic solar cells,” said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. “It is exactly the kind of innovation that puts America at the forefront of the global clean energy race. As global demand for solar cells increases, this kind of technology will help the U.S. increase its market share and be more competitive with other countries such as China, which currently accounts for 60% of the world supply of multicrystalline wafers.”