1366 Technologies, a company located in Lexington, Mass, announced today that they have raised $20 million to commercialize its process of making silicon solar cells, which they say will cut the price of solar panels by 40%. 1366 Technologies had previously gotten a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy to help develop the new process.
What 1366 Technologies does is to use molten silicon to make their solar cells. Most companies that make silicon solar cells cast a large ingot and then slice off thin pieces from the ingot – this ends up wasting about half of the silicon in the form of silicon dust. David Danielson, the program director for solar energy at ARPA-Energy, an office in the Department of Defense, says that the 1366 Technologies process is more like “frying pancakes as opposed to slicing salami, except, when you cut a salami, it’s not like half the salami ends up as salami dust that you have to throw in the garbage.”
The $20 million will be used to commercialize their process, and they’ve already appear to be ahead of schedule – the $4 million grant from ARPA-E (an office that was authorized and started by President Bush but not funded by Congress until the passage of President Obama’s Federal Stimulus Bill) gave 1366 Technologies an 18 month lead time to develop their process – instead they reported success after 8 months.
In addition to the cheaper cost, their cells have other design tweaks, including thinner wires to conduct away the electrons, plus small holes in the wafer to let light bounce around inside the cell, which helps absorption of light and reduces reflection.