Solar power may be getting cheaper, at least if 1366 Technologies has anything to say about it. The company, which created a new way to produce silicon wafers used in solar technology, recently announced an additional $20 million in financing, which will enable it to take its Direct Wafer technology into production well ahead of schedule.
Direct Wafer technology forms a 156mm multi-crystalline wafer directly from molten silicon in a semi-continuous, capital- and silicon-efficient process.
In plain English, that means it’s cheaper and produces far less waste than more traditional wafer manufacturing, which can waste as much as 50 percent of the silicon used in the process. Silicon is expensive, so the less waste, the better.
According to a statement by the company, its rapid progress during the last year was triggered by a $4 million grant received from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program in December 2009. That’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, a new office within the Energy Department that provides small grants to companies that are developing high-risk but potentially high-payoff technologies.
According to the New York Times Green Blog this little-known agency was authorized by Congress in 1997 and signed into law by President Bush, but was never financed until the passage of the federal stimulus act, which gave the program $400 million over two years.
In a statement on its website, 1366 Technologies CEO Frank van Mierlo says, “With this investment, we’re moving towards manufacturing. Our goal is to bring our transformative Direct Wafer technology into production and deliver the manufacturing innovations that will make solar electricity cheaper than coal.”
One of the biggest pluses of this technology, at least according to one of the principal venture capital firms supporting 1366, is that it’s cheap in terms of capital investment needed for development and the time to market promises to be short. No pie-in-the-sky Sci-fi stories here. This is the real deal. The company says it’s ready to move into production, and if that move proves successful, it could revolutionize solar power as we know it.
This would be a testament to the way in which smart government support of developing technology can really make a difference.
Imagine solar at the price of coal. That would sure be a game changer.