Innovation: Let There Be Light
Reported by Christine Lagorio
1366 Technologies has developed a more efficient way to produce silicon wafers for solar panels.
"In 20 years, there will be solar panels everywhere." - Frank van Mierlo, CEO, 1366 Technologies
One reason solar power is so expensive is that the energy-harnessing silicon wafers inside most solar panels are difficult to manufacture.
1366 Technologies, a company in Lexington, Massachusetts, has developed a streamlined process for producing wafers with the potential to cut manufacturing costs as much as 60 percent. The company's so-called Direct Wafer method involves skimming a cooled wafer directly from a vat of melted silicon. The process takes mere seconds, compared with two or three days using the current method, which involves forming silicon into bricks, then sawing it into sheets with a wire-cutting machine. 1366's process also eliminates the problem of silicon being lost during sawing. 1366 has a pilot machine up and running and hopes to begin selling wafers to solar panel manufacturers by the end of 2012.
A good fit Direct wafers, which measure 6 inches by 6 inches, are compatible with current solar panel designs, so they can be easily integrated into the supply chain.
Helping hand Last fall, 1366 Technologies received a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy to develop and scale its Direct Wafer process.
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CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is senior writer at Inc. @Lagorio