Over the last four years 1366 Technologies has been working away at improving its novel kerfless wafer fabrication process in a quiet suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.
On Thursday the company announced a new set of both efficiency improvements and operational milestones, in preparation for the roll-out of its first commercial-scale production facility in the second quarter of 2014.
In its first public work with passivated emitter rear contact (PERC) technology, 1366 has achieved over 18% efficiency with its Direct Wafer product, which is directly cast instead of sawn from cast ingots.
In standard cell processes, the company has achieved over 17.5% efficiency. This is an incremental improvement over the 17% efficient cells that the company has been producing for some time, and 1366 VP of Business Development Craig Lund cites improvements in grain size, dislocation densities and impurities.
(We’ve been) exercising the process, running it continuously for longer periods of time, notes Lund.
More than its efficiency, 1366 stresses the consistency of its product. The company says that it has eliminated the low efficiency tail of wafer production, and that cells made with its wafers exhibit a 50% tighter efficiency distribution compared to conventional multicrystalline silicon wafers.
In addition to these modest efficiency gains, 1366 also reports that it has improved wafer production to above 5 MW annually in its furnaces, which it says is on par with standard ingot casting.
The company is on the way to having three copy exact furnaces operational in the first quarter of 2015, which represent the 5th generation of its technology. 1366 says that this is the last step before it builds its 250 MW production facility, which it plans to begin construction on in the second quarter of 2015.
1366 has not settled on a final location, but the fab will be in the United States, which will allow the company to take advantage of support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE has supported 1366’s technology development through its SunShot program, and the company is also the recipient of a federal loan guarantee.
Many of the companies which received loan guarantees to pursue technology development in the first round of the DOE program have since gone bankrupt, making 1366 an exception.
DOE is set to roll out another round of loan guarantees in 2015, however the agency has not said which technologies these will support or specified the mix of companies and projects to receive funding. In the previous round, 87% of loan guarantees by value went to electricity generation projects, mostly very large solar and wind plants, not technology companies.