The state of New York is rapidly becoming a hub for cutting-edge solar manufacturing. SolarCity’s gigafactory in Buffalo is set to be joined by a second manufacturing facility to produce wafers cast from molten silicon using a unique process.
On Wednesday, 1366 Technologies announced that it will build its first commercial-scale wafer factory in Genesee County, in Upstate New York between Buffalo and Rochester. The company plans to begin construction on the first phase no later than the second quarter of 2016, and to complete the 130,000 square foot facility in 2017.
The factory is a long time coming; as of last August 1366 predicted that it would start construction of a new facility no later than the second quarter of 2015, but had not yet named a location.
This first phase of the New York factory will have the capacity to produce 50 million silicon wafers annually, enough to supply wafers for 250 MW of solar cells. Eventually 1366 aims to expand this to 600 million wafers annually, or more than 3 gigawatts.
These wafers will be produced using 1366′ proprietary technology, which by casting molten silicon eliminates the silicon dust from the conventional sawing process. This dust requires additional steps to reuse, and can represent up to 44% of the volume of silicon.
With a process that involves fewer steps, the potential for lower equipment costs and more efficient use of silicon, the company estimates that it can reduce total wafer costs by 54%. 1366 also says that the process allows for a more uniform product.
Direct Wafers appear to be able to achieve similar efficiencies to conventional wafers. In October 2014 1366 produced an 18% efficient cell based on its Direct Wafer using passivated emitter rear contact technology.
The advantages of the process have been recognized by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which named 1366 a New Energy Pioneer in April 2014. Additionally, the company was the recipient of a US$150 million loan guarantee in 2011.
1366 declined to comment on its customers for the new facility, but says that it has 60% of the output of the factory already accounted for.
The new wafer factory will be the anchor tenant for the new Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP) in Genesee County. As was the case with SolarCity, 1366 has also been supported by New York Governor Cuomo’s administration, and the company mentions a competitive and attractive incentive package.
For a more full exploration of alternative wafer technologies, please see pv magazine’s 2014 article on thin and kerfless wafer technologies.