December 29, 2009--MIT-spinoff 1366 Technologies (Boston, MA) was given about $4 million from the Department of Energy's (DOE's) intensely competitive Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, to learn how to manufacture silicon solar photovoltaic cells at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods, according to a New York Times article (originally posted December 22 on Greenwire by Katie Howell).
"We were the only one in photovoltaics who got an ARPA-E grant, and we were pretty amazed by that too," said Ely Sachs, the company's CTO. "It's quite a compliment."
ARPA-E aims to promote transformational energy technologies. The photovoltaics company is among 37 grant winners, joining companies working on batteries for storing energy generated from renewable sources, electric cars, efficient lighting and biofuels from seaweed.
Traditional methods of producing solar photovoltaic modules with crystalline silicon involve creating a silicon ingot and sawing it into wafers. "What we're doing is making silicon wafers directly in one step rather than taking refined polycrystalline silicon, melting it, making an ingot, sawing it into wafers and etching off the saw damage," Sachs said. "We're going right from refined silicon to wafer in one step: direct wafer technology."
Sachs said he could not provide many details about the technology itself, as it is still in development. But he said it differs from other efforts to solve this problem and should produce results within the ARPA-E timeline, about 20 months.
The Boston company's approach would decrease the total installed cost of a solar power system by half. It would also decrease the amount of expensive silicon material needed to make solar cells by a factor of more than three, said Craig Lund, 1366 Technologies' director of business development.
ARPA-E, which was awarded stimulus funding earlier this year, has announced about $4 million each to the first 37 recipients. And a second $100 million funding opportunity was announced earlier this month. So far, the number of grant recipients involved in more conventional renewable energy sectors has been low. Along with 1366 Technologies' photovoltaic effort, there are just two wind projects and an enhanced geothermal project getting funding.