LEXINGTON, Mass.--Energy Secretary Steven Chu toured 1366 Technologies today, saying that it is a "primo example" of the innovation in clean-energy technology that can occur in the U.S. with federal funding in research.
The photos that follow show some of the work being done at 1366 Technologies, which is seeking to cut the price of solar lower than coal.
Making a solar photovoltaic panel is a multi-step process, which start-up 1366 Technologies is trying to short-cut to lower the cost.
To make polycrystalline silicon solar cells, which are strung together to fill a panel, manufacturers start with silicon wafers, the flat gray sheets on the upper right. 1366's Direct Wafer technology, which is still in development, seeks to eliminate a lot of the wasted silicon in the traditional process by making wafers directly from molten silicon, rather than sawing wafers from large ingots. 1366 so far has been able to make a standard 6-inch by 6-inch wafer, the black one encased in plastic.
From silicon wafers, solar manufacturers make solar cells pictured here. 1366 Technologies has also developed a few other techniques for incrementally improving the efficiency of polycrystalline silicon cells.
Here is a machine developed by 1366 Technologies which it is marketing to solar manufacturers. The machine places a polymer surface on a silicon wafer during cell manufacturing. The machine creates a textured surface that cuts down on reflectivity, increasing the amount of light the cell can capture and convert to electricity.
Steven Chu got a private presentation of 1366's Direct Wafer technology where a furnace heats raw silicon and "freezes" it into a single wafer. That wafer can then be processed by solar manufacturers to make a solar cell, several of which make up a solar module, or panel. The traditional method of making wafers involves sawing them from large ingots, a process in which a significant amount of silicon is lost.
Steven Chu speaks with Emmanuel Sachs, the chief technology officer at 1366 Technology and MIT professor (now on leave) who developed the company's technology in his lab. In between them is Arun Majumdar, the director of Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E).