On January 30th, 2013 start-up 1366 Technologies (Bedford, Massachusetts, US) opened a new production facility based on its Direct Wafer technology in the US state of Massachusetts, with the ability to reach up to 25 MW of annual production capacity.
The company has developed equipment it says will reduce the production time, the amount of waste and the cost of making silicon wafers. Solar cells are made with wafers and assembled into panels for installation.
1366 will spend the next 12 to 18 months troubleshooting problems and increasing the production rate of the 25-megawatt factory. Doing so is typical for all kinds of manufacturing, not just in solar, because it takes time to make sure all of the pieces of equipment work well together and produce products without defects.
The Direct Wafer process forms ultra-thin multicrystalline silicon wafers directly from molten silicon, removing several steps in conventional production processes. The factory also contains 1366′s research and development operations.
"A little more than five years ago, we set out to revolutionize the solar industry by solving the greatest manufacturing challenge in the biggest solar market," said 1366 Technologies CEO Frank van Mierlo. "Today, we’re one step closer to that goal and our mission to deliver solar at the cost of coal."
"We not only have our footing, we’re growing, scaling and preparing to lead in the eventual global industry turnaround. We have momentum at our back and the essential elements of success: a great team, a truly disruptive technology, capital and strong partners."
17% solar cell efficiencies achieved
The new factory includes processes to turn the company’s wafers into solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, allowing internal testing and validation.
1366 notes that in customer trials, its cells have achieved 17% efficiencies, comparable with PV cells produced from conventional multicrystalline wafers. The company also states that the quality of its wafers varies less than those produced with conventional processes.
Advantage in reduced silicon waste
However, the greatest advantage may be in reduction of waste. 1366 notes that conventional polysilicon-to-wafer processes are not only energy- and capital-intensive, but lose a significant portion of polysilicon through the sawing process.
The company’s wafers are typically produced at thicknesses of roughly 200 microns, however 1366 notes that its process allows it to produce wafers in a range of thicknesses.
1366 process includes proprietary wet process
1366 has also developed a proprietary wet process for the surface treatment of its wafers, a step which is necessary as its wafers initially have a higher reflectivity compared to conventional wafers. The process creates a surface texture of micro-scale pits, which increases light absorption.
Plans to build additional 1 GW facility
1366 states that over the next 12-18 months its wafer production will increase as its team fine-tunes the process to where it can be transferred and replicated in future facilities.
In addition to the facility in Bedford, Massachusetts, the company plans to build a 1 GW manufacturing facility, for which the US Department of Energy awarded the company a USD 150 million loan guarantee in September 2011. 1366 states that it expects to begin its search for a location in 2013.
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