US-Based ‘Direct Wafer’ producer, 1366 Technologies, has set out plans for massive scale-up of operations with the building of a 3GW solar wafer facility in Genesee County, New York. 

1366 Technologies said the first phase of its expansion would see the construction of a 250MW facility, producing around 50 million single wafers per annum and directly employing 300 staff. 

The 130,000 square-foot facility is to be built at high-tech Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP) and is expected to start construction no later than the second quarter of 2016 and is expected to be completed in 2017.

Planned expansion phases would take the capacity to 3GW, equivalent to 600 million wafers per annum and create around 1,000 jobs. The facilities would be supplied energy from hydro-electric sources, providing the lowest possible cost and lowest energy payback, according to the company. Around 400 Direct Wafer furnaces will be housed at the facility. The technology allows wafers to be made directly from molten silicon, cutting out several stages in the ingot-to-wafer process.

The company was issued a US$150 million loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to build a commercial-scale manufacturing facility.

Frank van Mierlo, CEO of 1366 Technologies, said: “Today is an exciting day, the culmination of a lot of hard work by a talented group of people. From day one, we have taken a deliberate, highly measured path to scaling. The facility in Bedford, Massachusetts was our proving ground. New York brings us to commercial scale. The technology is ready and 1366 is squarely positioned to lead in an industry undergoing rapid global growth.”

According to PV Tech’s global tracking of PV manufacturing capacity expansion announcements, investment in solar wafer expansions has been extremely limited, compared to a major new wave of PV module expansions in 2014 that has been supported in 2015 by solar cell capacity expansions. 

Recently, Taiwan-based wafer producer Green Energy Technology (GET) warned of potential shortages in wafer production as downstream demand continues to grow due to the lack of new wafer capacity. GET has been operating at above 95% utilisation rates in 2015. 

The largest wafer producer, GCL-Poly has only added 1GW of new capacity in 2015, bringing its total annual wafer capacity to 14GW.