Innovative Solar Manufacturing Gets DOE Support

June 22, 2011

To boost solar innovative solar energy manufacturing, DOE has announced two offers of conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling $425 million.

On June 16, DOE announced the offer of a $275 million loan guarantee to Calisolar, Inc. to commercialize its innovative solar silicon manufacturing process. Calisolar's process should produce silicon for use in solar cells at less than half the cost of traditional polysilicon purification processes. At full production, the manufacturing plant is expected to produce 16,000 metric tons of solar silicon annually. The project will be built in three phases and is expected to be located in a former General Motors stamping plant in Ontario, Ohio. Calisolar estimates that the facility will generate, at its peak, nearly 1,100 permanent jobs and up to 1,000 construction jobs.

The project will manufacture solar silicon from lower-cost metallurgical grade silicon feedstock that is upgraded using Calisolar's proprietary silicon purification process, which uses significantly less energy to produce solar silicon that performs as well as polysilicon products made from more expensive and energy-intensive traditional processes. Calisolar is helping achieve the goals of DOE's SunShot Initiative by lowering the cost of their solar cells through using less pure silicon, the raw material for solar cells. This work was supported by DOE through funding for the University of California, Berkeley and with $3 million from DOE's PV Technology Incubator, which leveraged $6.6 million in private industry cost share and was run through DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. See the DOE press release.

On June 17, DOE announced another offer of a conditional commitment, this time for a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies, Inc. The company will develop a multicrystalline wafer-manufacturing project capable of producing approximately 700 to 1,000 megawatts of silicon-based wafers annually using a revolutionary manufacturing process called "direct wafer." The process could reduce manufacturing costs of the wafers by approximately 50%. Phase 1 of the project will be located in Lexington, Massachusetts, and is expected to generate 70 permanent jobs and 50 construction jobs. The company is evaluating site locations for another planned phase, which it anticipates will create hundreds of additional jobs.

The original development of the company's direct wafering technology was supported with a $4 million grant from DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program and a $3 million grant from DOE's Solar Energy Technologies Program. The new process condenses four manufacturing steps into a single, low-cost step and greatly reduces silicon waste by forming individual wafers directly from a pool of molten silicon. 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 required by conventional batch processing, which can take up to three days. The company's one-step system requires 90% less energy and results in an industry-standard product that can be used by any standard multicrystalline cell manufacturer. See the DOE press release and DOE's Loan Programs Office website.