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Solar Wafer Process Developer Earns DoE Loan Guarantee

Solar Panels (NREL)

(National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

The U.S. Department of Energy will offer a conditional commitment for a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies in Lexington, Massachusetts. The company has developed a new manufacturing process for silicon wafers used in solar panels that promises to slash the costs and time needed to make.

The loan guarantee will support 1366 Techologies’ Direct Wafer process that the company says forms a standard, 156mm multi-crystalline wafer directly from molten silicon in a semi-continuous and high-throughput process that eliminates silicon waste. A thin sheet of silicon freezes inside the Direct Wafer furnace, and is then removed and laser-trimmed to size.

At full production, the entire wafer formation process is completed in just a fraction of the time compared to conventional batch processing which can take up to three days.  The process, according to the company, requires 90 percent less energy and results in an product that can be used by any standard multicrystalline cell manufacturer. DoE expects Direct Wafer to produce 700 to 1,000 megawatts (MW) of silicon-based wafers each year, and cut manufacturing costs by 50 percent.

The company has received support earlier from DoE. The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy program awarded 1366 Technologies a $4 million grant, as well as a $3 million grant from DOE’s Solar Energy Technology Program. The company has also attracted some $46 million in venture capital financing, according to GIGAOM, an industry Web site.

A loan guarantee is an obligation between the government, private creditors, and a borrower that the Federal Government will cover the borrower’s debt in the event that the borrower defaults. A conditional commitment adds a requirement that the borrower first needs to satisfy previous specified funding obligations and any other contractual, statutory and regulatory requirements, before the loan guarantee agreement is executed.

The initial technology for 1366 Technologies was developed at MIT, with the company founded to commercialize that technology.

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