1366 Tech partners with Hanwha Q Cells in wafer launch

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1366 Technologies and Hanwha Q Cells have formed a strategic partnership aimed at taking the Massachusetts-based start up’s direct-wafer technology from the lab and into the fab, the companies announced today.

“The first part of this is an R&D partnership, but we absolutely have the intention that this becomes commercial in phase two,” Frank van Mierlo, chief executive of 1366 Technologies, told pv magazine.

As part of the first phase, 1366 Technologies this week installed three "gleaming new" direct-wafer furnaces for manufacturing multicrystalline wafers at its research and development facility in Bedford, Massachusetts, said Van Mierlo. This latest generation of the company’s kerfless wafer production machinery, which avoids feedstock waste by forming wafers directly from molten silicon, is designed to make more than 5 MW per year.

The process is designed to eliminate steps in conventional wafer production and yield more uniform wafers at half the cost.

Hanwha Q Cells, an investor in 1366, has been receiving shipments of research wafers to test in its cells and will also test wafers from the new machines ahead of 1366’s planned commercialization of the technology next year.

According to Van Mierlo, 1366 Technologies plans to break ground on its first full-scale manufacturing facility in the third quarter of this year. The estimated $100 million factory, the precise location of which has not yet been decided, will house 50 such furnaces and have a combined 250 MW of production capacity when it becomes operational in 2016.

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded the company a $150 million loan guarantee in 2011 that the company plans to use to cover half the cost of the factory. The DOE backing also supported the R&D facility. To date, 1366 has raised more than $64 million from private investors.

“The timing could very well be ideal,” said Van Mierlo. Following several years of overcapacity, he foresees “a period where demand exceeds supply in a couple of years, and then it’s time to expand and build your multi-gigawatt empire.”

The September 2014 edition of pv magazine featured a special article on thin and kerfless wafer technology. Access it for free here.