US backs innovative cheaper solar manufacturing efforts
US Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a $275 million loan guarantee last week for innovative solar manufacturer Calisolar.
The loan guarantee will help the company commercialise the manufacturing process it has developed to produce silicon for solar cells, which Calisolar claims could cost half that of producing traditional polysilicon.
Calisolar’s ‘solar silicon’ is produced from lower-cost metallurgical grade silicon feedstock and then upgraded using the company’s proprietary purification process.
The process also uses significantly less energy than traditional processes for polysilicon and requires only a sixth of the capital equipment construction costs.
The government-supported project will build a manufacturing plant, which is expected to be sited in a former General Motors plant in Ontario, Ohio, in three phases, each representing a production capacity of around 5300 metric tons of solar silicon.
“This innovative manufacturing process offers significant competitive advantages,” says Energy Secretary Chu.
Meanwhile, the Department of Energy (DOE) is also offering a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies to develop its multicrystalline wafer manufacturing process.
The company’s ‘direct wafer’ manufacturing process also claims to have the potential to halve the cost of producing silicon wafers for solar cells.
The process forms wafers directly from a pool of molten silicon, which is ‘frozen’ inside the furnace and then removed and trimmed to size.
The wafer production takes a fraction of the time of conventional methods because it condenses four manufacturing steps into a single low-cost process.
The first phase of the project will create a manufacturing site in Lexington, Massachusetts, which will be capable of producing 700-1000 MW of silicon-based wafers a year and generate around 70 jobs.
1366 Technologies is currently looking at locations for a future second phase, which would be larger and create more jobs.
The move is the latest in a series of high-profile loan guarantees for solar energy companies in recent weeks.
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