Against the headwind of a chaotic solar market, 1366 Technologies of Lexington, Mass., a startup with VC funding and a DOE loan guarantee, just opened a $6 million, 25-megawatt wafer fabrication facility that could eventually employ 100 people.
The company’s technology falls in the “kerfless wafer” category, a technology of special interest for outgoing DOE head Steven Chu. The aim is to disrupt the traditional way that silicon-based photovoltaic wafers are fabricated.
We spoke with CEO Frank van Mierlo. “For the last 50 years we’ve been melting silicon, creating ingots and blocks, and cutting the blocks with wire saws to create wafers,” said the CEO, noting that the incumbent process uses eighteen different machines and goes through “a lot of consumables,” adding that “half of the silicon is wasted.”
“Our process has none of these consumables,” said the CEO, noting that 1366 uses one-quarter of the factory real estate and doesn’t waste silicon in its “semi-continuous process.”
1366′s “Direct Wafer” method creates wafers directly from molten silicon — although the firm has not divulged details about its process.
The end product is a textured wafer in a standard 156-by-156-by-0.2 millimeter size. According to the CEO, “It goes into any standard cell line and has yielded efficiencies of 17 percent in customer trials.”
According to GTM Research, 1366 purchases polysilicon feedstock, melts it, and produces square wafers that are sold either as-is, or after texturing. The report also finds that silicon utilization is at approximately three grams per watt at the firm.