Before I get into the meat of my post, I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to Ron on the loss of his wife last week.
I have expressed optimism for the prospects of “kerfless” wafer production for solar PV cells. I just think that on a fundamental level, it seems to be a sound idea to use less energy and fewer steps to produce cells using as little as 30% of the silicon raw material used by conventional methods involving sawing wafers from silicon ingots. Apparently it’s not simple at all to move from concept to mass production. I want to ensure that I am not seen as a shill for 1366 Technologies, having mentioned them by name in several posts so, let me point out that searching for information on the decline in costs of solar PV, I stumbled upon a comment that led me to several other players in the “kerfless wafer” space. Here are a few articles about some of the other players:
September 20, 2016
Rayton Solar tries to revolutionize wafer production
Instead of creating ingots and then cutting them with a saw, which Yakub says creates significant losses in panel production and in-field capability, Rayton injects protons at a specific depth within the silicon atoms, applies heat and exfoliates thin slices off the ingot measuring 3 microns thick, compared to a typical wafer that measures 200 microns.
“By cutting out the waste of traditional cell production, we will be able to compete with the cheapest Chinese panels,” Yakub says. “We’re not frightened by the current panel market. We welcome it because we believe lower prices expand the market – and we’ll be ready to win.”
Yakub says Rayton Solar is currently designing its wafer production and expects to have products for consumers in slightly more than 12 months from now.
LEUVEN, Belgium and SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 14, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — World-leading nanoelectronics research center imec and Crystal Solar, a pioneer in direct wafer growing technologies for the next generation of solar photovoltaic products, today announced that they have achieved a 22.5 percent cell efficiency (certified by FhG ISE CalLab) with nPERT silicon (Si) solar cells manufactured on 6-inch mono-crystalline epitaxially grown kerfless wafers. Marking an industry first, imec and Crystal Solar have demonstrated the highest efficiency to-date for homojunction solar cells on epitaxially grown silicon wafers, paving the way toward industrialization of this promising technology.
Crystal Solar’s breakthrough manufacturing technology called Direct Gas to WaferTM enables direct conversion of feedstock gas to mono crystalline silicon wafers by high throughput epitaxial growth. By skipping the polysilicon, ingoting and the wire-sawing steps altogether, this approach not only results in lowest cost/watt for the wafers but also significantly reduces the capital required to set up a manufacturing plant. Furthermore, this process enables the growth of high quality p-n junctions in-situ which reduces cell making steps while increasing the efficiency.
EpiWafers can save up to 50 per cent in the costs of manufacturing PV wafers. By cutting out several energy intensive and costly development stages as well as saving on material, the technology enables NexWafe to go straight from raw material to wafer form.
The project – Epicomm – will support NexWafe in developing its German-based pilot line of solar wafers, characterising cells and modules built out of those wafers, and planning for mass-scale production.
“NexWafe’s disruptive solution has huge potential to impact the cost reduction of energy from solar power. It’s an extremely promising investment.“, says Mikel Lasa, InnoEnergy Iberia CEO. “Besides the strong business case, this project is also key to strengthen the EU renewable energy leadership, one of the pillars of the Energy Union. This is also an excellent example of how R&D moves towards the market. We definitely want to see more of these in our coming investment rounds.”
After spending more than $250 million, Solexel (rechristened as Beamreach last year) has joined its brethren on the list of failed solar startups. This follows a late-in-corporate-life shift to low-weight modules and away from its original thin-silicon aspirations.
In 2008, no solar entrepreneur or investor envisioned photovoltaic module costs of 30 cents per watt — which is where we are today. A startup founded in 2008, like Solexel, based its business plan on module costs of about $4 per watt and falling.
The firm received $3 million in DOE funding in 2008 for a project with this description: “Solexel plans on commercializing a disruptive, 3-D, high-efficiency mono-crystalline silicon cell technology, while dramatically reducing manufacturing cost per watt. Solexel plans to deliver a 17%-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 GW scale PV producer within five years.”
That last thing didn’t happen.
Here’s how the technology gets entwined with politics
Solar and wind power get 326 and 69 times more in subsidies than coal, oil, and natural gas, according to 2013 Department of Energy data collected by Forbes. Green energy in the U.S. received $13 billion in subsidies during 2013, compared to $3.4 billion in subsidies for conventional sources of energy and $1.7 billion in subsidies for nuclear, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.
The “facts” put forward in the quoted article got me suspicious so, I did some fact checking. Other sources (The IEA) state:
The IEA’s latest estimates indicate that fossil-fuel consumption subsidies worldwide amounted to $493 billion in 2014, $39 billion down on the previous year, in part due to the drop in international energy prices, with subsidies to oil products representing over half of the total. Those subsidies were over four-times the value of subsidies to renewable energy.
It would appear that right wing or right leaning sources such as The Daily Caller, Forbes, Fox News and the like, are more than happy to point out and exaggerate subsidies for renewable energy, while ignoring the subsidies received by the FF industries. I assume then that these sources would be highly critical of this action taken by the DOE before last years US elections.
SANTA CLARA, Calif., Sept. 15, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Crystal Solar, a pioneer in the direct growth of mono-crystalline Silicon epitaxial wafers for solar today announced that it has been awarded a $3 million cooperative agreement by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to develop high efficiency epitaxial solar cells and demonstrate commercial level yield at its pilot production facility in Santa Clara, California.
Crystal Solar’s breakthrough manufacturing technology called Direct Gas to Wafer™ enables direct conversion of Trichlorosilane (TCS) gas to mono crystalline silicon wafers by high throughput epitaxial growth. By skipping the polysilicon, ingoting and the wire-sawing steps altogether, this approach not only results in lowest cost/watt for the wafers but also significantly reduces the capital required to set up a manufacturing plant. Furthermore, this process enables the growth of high quality p-n junctions in-situ which reduces cell making steps while increasing the efficiency.
“Crystal Solar’s epitaxial process has already demonstrated world record efficiencies for mono crystalline passivated emitter and rear contact cells (PERC), representing for the first time a kerfless wafer technology exceeding the performance of the incumbent,” said T.S. Ravi, chief executive officer of Crystal Solar. “We appreciate this recognition and grant from the Energy Department and we expect that this will greatly help accelerate the transition to market for such wafers.”
Finally this story illustrates the conundrum the Trump administration finds itself in.
A Massachusetts startup named 1366 Technologies has beaten one technological barrier after another in its nine-year quest for a manufacturing breakthrough for U.S.-made silicon wafers, the platform for solar power cells.
But now it has a hurdle its engineers and scientists can’t answer in the laboratory.
That is to persuade the Trump administration’s Department of Energy to come through with a $150 million loan guarantee promised by the Obama administration that is the key to construction of the company’s first full-scale manufacturing plant in rural upstate New York.
The company’s future is a test case in how the new administration will draw the line between budget cutting and seeding high-tech manufacturing jobs.
Will 1366 Technologies end up like Beamreach Solar?
Bankrupt US solar module start-up Beamreach Solar’s pilot production line in Milpitas, California is being offered for sale by Silicon Valley Disposition Inc. (SVD).
The 72,000 square foot facility is equipped with a turnkey line, said to have cost over US$22 million in the 2014/15 period.
According to a previous Greentech Media report, Beamreach Solar accumulated around US$250 million in costs over the lifetime of the company, which was formerly known as Solexel for the majority of its life.
Does anybody else think that all this innovation has not escaped the Asian countries. The Korean Firm Hanwah has invested in 1366 Technologies so, that is proof positive it has not. Maybe there are other Asian investors just waiting to swoop down and pick up the carcasses of any other “kerfless wafer” companies so that they can reduce their costs even more. Who knows?
Last year (2016), China installed 34,540 MW of solar PV, almost half of the more than 70,000 MW installed worldwide in 2016. all of which was made in China in addition, according to a source in thias article “80% of global wafer capacity is in China”, so I think It’s pretty safe to say that they exported a significant share of the amount that was installed in the rest of the world. The Chinese government encouraged and facilitated the domination of the worldwide PV module market by Chinese manufacturers. They probably spent far more than the US government has and it seems that, rather than fight fire with fire, the Republican administration is determined to capitulate and surrender the clean energy markets to other countries. The end of Empire?