DOE invests $17.6 million in photovoltaic initiative

October 2, 2008--The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded US$17.6 million to six early-stage photovoltaic technology projects, part of the Solar America Initiative.

October 2, 2008--The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced it plans to spend up to US$17.6 million, subject to annual appropriations, for six early-stage photovoltaic (PV) module incubator projects that focus on the initial manufacturing of advanced solar PV technologies. Including the cost share from industry, which will be at least 20%, the total research investment is expected to reach up to $35.4 million. These projects support President Bush's Solar America Initiative, which aims to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015.

"These projects will help promote the development of a diverse set of photovoltaic technologies and ensure that the U.S. is a world leader in next-generation, cost-effective solar technologies," said John Mizroch, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. "These solar photovoltaic incubator awards will help accelerate the time it takes for innovative start-up companies to get their technologies to market."

Through these projects, companies will seek to accelerate the time it takes to move innovative PV technologies from laboratory demonstration into pilot production, and to reduce the cost, improve performance, and expand the manufacturing capacity of PV modules. These awards will help fill the commercialization pipeline with advanced solar technologies and bring a new generation of PV product suppliers into the marketplace.

Upon negotiation of their subcontracts through DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the following six companies will begin their 18-month projects:

1366 Technologies (Lexington, MA) is developing a new cell architecture and related processes for low-cost multi-crystalline silicon cells. This project will receive up to $3 million to enhance cell performance by light-trapping texturing and grooves for self-aligned metalization fingers. Improving the light trapping and charge carrier movement within the cell will significantly increase the efficiency of multicrystalline cells. By the end of the project, 1366 Technologies plans to deliver a 19% efficient, 15.6 x 15.6 cm2, multi-crystalline silicon cell with a technology that is applicable across the crystalline silicon cell industry.

Innovalight (Sunnyvale, CA) is set to receive up to $3 million to develop very efficienct, low-cost solar cells and modules by ink-jet printing their proprietary "silicon ink" onto thin-crystalline silicon wafers. The company's contact-less printing process has been demonstrated to significantly reduce both the manufacturing costs and the complexity required to make today's highly-efficient cells and modules.

Skyline Solar (Mountain View, CA) has developed an integrated lightweight, single-axis tracked system that has been demonstrated to reflect and concentrate sunlight over 10X onto silicon cells. The use of mirrors to concentrate light will reduce the use of the greatest cost driver for traditional silicon modules, the solar cells, by over 90%. Additionally, the design leverages the mainstream PV industrial base and amplifies its capacity through significant concentration to enable rapid scaling. The company will receive up to $3 million to dramatically lower the cost to manufacture modules and install complete systems to achieve a levelized cost of energy below grid parity. By the end of this project, Skyline plans to deliver modules that exceed 12m2 area and 15% aperture-area efficiency.

Solasta (Newton, MA) is using a novel cell design based on an amorphous-silicon "nanocoax" structure, which increases current and lowers materials cost by shortening the path charge carriers must travel to the cell's conducting wires. This approach effectively decouples the optical and electronic pathways. If successful, Solasta will deliver 15% efficient, 100 cm2 pre-production cells at the end of the project. The company will receive up to $2.6 million.

Solexel (Milpitas, CA), with their award of up to $3 million, plans to commercialize a disruptive, three-dimensional, high-efficiency, mono-crystalline silicon-cell technology, while dramatically reducing manufacturing cost per watt. Through a series of novel yet low-cost processing steps, this project will manufacture a solar-cell architecture which efficiently traps light using minimal material. At the end of this project, Solexel plans to deliver a 17% to 19% efficient, 156 x 156 mm2, single-crystal cell that consumes substantially lower silicon per watt than conventionally sliced wafers. Solexel aspires to be a gigawatt-scale PV producer within five years.

Spire Semiconductor (Hudson, NH) plans on opening up the design space for three-junction tandem solar cells by growing differentiated bi-facial cells on a gallium arsenide substrate. The award of up to $2.97 million will allow Spire to better optimize the optical properties of their device layers to better match the solar spectrum. Spire Semiconductor is targeting cell efficiencies over 42% using a low-cost manufacturing method.

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