Dear Friends, Visitors/Viewers/Readers,
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Watching the list of solar energy companies to appear and disappear over the years is almost like watching a revolving door….as solar energy industry continues to evolve. Yes, cost and efficiency are the two areas where many solar companies are concentrating their energy and effort in at the moment. In recent years, many companies are directing their effort toward kerfless technology. One of these companies, 1366 Technologies, is worth keeping an eye on. The company’s name is referenced to the solar constant, representing the watts of solar energy that hits each square meter of the surface of the earth. It is a company based in Bedford, Massachusetts that has developed a technique to produce silicon wafers by casting them in their ultimate shape directly in a mold, rather than the prevailing standard method in which wafers are cut from a large ingot. The company aims to manufacture multi-crystalline silicon wafers, the building blocks of solar cells, at half the cost of current methods.
The company used a $4 million grant obtained from the United States Department of Energy‘s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program in December 2009 to fund research over an 18-month period. Grants from ARPA-E are designed to provide money to relatively small projects offering the potential for high-payoff results in fostering advanced techniques. 1366 Technologies was able to announce eight months into the grant period that it had achieved success in its casting technology, in which molten silicon is poured directly into a mold to produce wafers in their final form, a square 6 inches (15 cm) on each side that is 200 micrometers thick and are then extracted from the mold using a proprietary technique to ensure that the wafer doesn’t break while being removed from the mold. In traditional methods, wafers of this size are cut from a large single ingot or crystal, in an approach that leaves as much as half of the original silicon ingot as waste.
Below, a video that was published back in 2009 on the basics behind silicon-based solar cell technology by 1366 Technologies:
David Danielson, program director for solar energy at ARPA-E said that “early indications show this could be one of our great success stories.” ARPA-E’s first director Arun Majumdar estimated that current techniques generate solar power at a cost of $4 per watt, and that bringing down that cost to $1.50 per watt could lead to the widespread adoption of solar energy (solar industry is evolving very fast and is currently already at the cost level of slightly over $1.00 per watt). Company president Frank van Mierlo estimated that solar power generated using wafers from 1366 Technologies would be cheaper than power generated using coal. The company is now on their third generation of wafer-producing machines, which are full-sized, industrial line machines. The company will open a commercial-scale factory in upstate New York, slated for completion in 2017. This plant will start producing 50 million wafers annually, totaling 250 megawatts of output. It will eventually scale to 600 million wafers and 3,000 MW of annual production.
1366 Technologies has raised $70 million in capital to commercialize their innovation, from such investors as South Korean Hanwha Chemical, a major user of silicon wafers, as well as from Ventizz Capital Fund, North Bridge Venture Partners and Polaris Venture Partners.
As the revolving door continues to rotate during Solar Evolution/Revolution, perhaps the name of a solar constant will bring forth a longer stay than other abbreviated variables.