1366 Technologies, a company based in Lexington, MA, shows how a new manufacturing process can make silicon solar cells 80 percent cheaper. The company dreams that within 10 years they will be able to improve the technology so as the solar cells built by them to compete with coal in price.
The way that silicon wafers are currently manufactured wastes 50% of the crystalline silicon they’re made of. In the cutting process, by conventional sawing, waste silicon is lost as sawdust.
The company has perfected a new process, whose details are for the moment kept as an industrial secret, that produces silicon wafers without sawing. Furthermore, their process the number of steps necessary to make solar cells, which in turn brings down costs.
“The technology could be disruptive,” says Reidar Langmo, the CEO of Novus Energy Partners and the founder of the solar company REC. Langmo recently joined the board at 1366.
Emanuel Sachs, an MIT professor, is behind 1366’s technology. One machine could produce 30 times more watts of solar cells, which could lower the cost of the equipment used, as far fewer machines would be needed to make the same number of solar cells. The company plans to make solar cells that are the same dimensions as conventional solar cells. That way they can be stitched together in arrays to make complete solar panels using existing manufacturing lines.
Van Mierlo, 1366’s CEO, says they only made a few small solar cells (a few centimeters across), but plans to open a 100-megawatt solar cell production facility next year.
Speaking about efficiency, 1366’s solar cells don’t equal today’s standards, but Mierlo says they’re more efficient than thin film cells made of cadmium and tellurium (that means more than 11 percent).