This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

February 09, 2011

DOE Invests $27 Million in U.S. Solar Manufacturing and Advanced PV

As part of its new "SunShot" initiative, DOE announced on February 4 that it is investing up to $20.3 million in innovative projects to strengthen the U.S. solar manufacturing industry, improve manufacturing efficiencies, and reduce costs. This includes DOE's Solar Energy Technologies Program support for companies across the solar energy supply chain, including U.S. material and tool suppliers and companies developing technologies that can be adopted directly into current manufacturing processes.

The award recipients are pursuing projects that focus on technology improvements that will lead to improved solar cell efficiency, reduced production costs, and a stronger domestic photovoltaic (PV) industry. Awardees include 1366 Technologies in Lexington, Massachusetts, which will use $3 million to further develop a new "Direct Wafer" manufacturing process that dramatically reduces the cost of producing silicon wafers for use in silicon PV modules; 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota, which will receive $4.4 million to develop and commercialize a flexible, highly transparent "topsheet" that will enable successful commercialization of flexible PV modules; PPG Industries in Cheswick, Pennsylvania, which will invest $3.1 million to develop the materials, coating designs, and manufacturing processes necessary to commercialize new glass for the cadmium telluride (CdTe) module manufacturing industry; Varian Semiconductor in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which will use $4.8 million to reduce the cost of manufacturing "interdigitated" back contact cells, the most efficient silicon solar cells on the market; and Veeco of Lowell, Massachusetts, which will leverage $4.8 million in a project to accelerate the research and development, integration, and commercialization of an innovative thin-film CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, diselenide) multi-stage thermal deposition production system in order to manufacture cost-efficient CIGS PV solar cells. See the DOE press release and the Solar Energy Technologies Program website and the SunShot Initiative website.

In addition, DOE announced up to $7 million of funding in the fourth round of the Photovoltaic (PV) Incubator Program. Under the program, DOE helps to develop and commercialize promising emerging solar technologies by shortening the timeline from pre-commercial and prototype stage PV technologies to pilot and full-scale manufacturing operations. The program will help to improve the commercial potential of new manufacturing processes and products with the potential to realize dramatic cost reductions. In this round, companies were selected in one of two categories: Tier 1 supports support the development of commercially viable technology prototypes with $1 million grants for a year, while Tier 2 develops and scales up pilot-stage manufacturing processes with up to $4 million over 18 months.

DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory issued funding to three Tier 1 projects. Caelux in Pasadena, California, is developing a flexible solar cell manufacturing process and design that minimizes the amount of semiconducting material used, which could reduce production costs. Solexant in San Jose, California, is developing a new thin-film material from substances that are non-toxic and not rare. Stion in San Jose, California, is exploring a thin-film technology that will allow two high-efficiency thin-film solar devices to be stacked, allowing for much better absorption of light, as well as improved power generation. Under a Tier 2 project, Crystal Solar in Santa Clara, California, is working on a new technology for the fabrication, handling, processing, and packaging of very thin single crystal silicon wafers (four times thinner than standard cells) that eliminate many of the wasteful and expensive wafer-processing steps. See the DOE press release.