The United States Department of Energy offered a conditional commitment for a $275 million loan guarantee to Calisolar Inc. to finance the company’s commercialization of a solar silicon manufacturing process which can help reduce the overall cost of solar modules and panels in the country.
The manufacturing facility is capable of generating 16,000 metric tons of solar silicon every year, equal to over 2 gigawatts of yearly solar power generation. It will be constructed in Ontario, Richland County, Ohio, in a former General Motors stamping plant.
The project will be built in three phases, each having 5,333 metric tons capacity. Calisolar estimates the facility to generate almost 1,100 permanent jobs and up to 1,000 construction jobs.
"This innovative manufacturing process offers significant competitive advantages that will help the U.S. to out-innovate and out-compete our global competitors. This project is part of our commitment to supporting important innovations that create jobs, strengthen our manufacturing base, and position the nation as a global solar leader," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
The technology to be funded can produce silicon for solar cells at less than 50 percent the cost of traditional polysilicon purification technologies by using cheaper metallurgical grade silicon feedstock. This less expensive feedstock is then upgraded using Calisolar’s proprietary silicon purification process.
The silicon is purified in a liquid state at temperatures lower than the distillation temperatures of vapor phase silicon purification, thus consuming less energy. The process enables economic production at a lower scale. The standard foundry equipment used is also cheaper.
Calisolar estimates that its technology’s capital equipment and construction costs amount to only one-sixth of the costs of traditional silicon manufacturing processes.
The company assures that despite the low-cost materials and processes of their silicon manufacturing systems, the product performs just as well. The company states a demonstrated average production cell efficiency of 16 percent.
The low-cost nature of the project is in line with the department’s SunShot Initiative program which aims to make solar energy technologies cost-competitive with other forms of energy by reducing the cost of solar energy systems by about 75 percent before 2020.
The project is also supported by the department through funding for the University of California, Berkeley and through another $3-million funding from the Photovoltaic Incubator Program, which leveraged $6.6 million in private industry cost share and was run through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.