Kerfless wafer technology – which eliminates the sawing of ingots – has long been hailed as an innovation that can disrupt the heavy, messy and inefficient polysilicon and wafer supply chain. However, for years this has been just potential, with no commercial-scale production of kerfless wafers to challenge the dominant process.
Today’s announcement by the largest Western polysilicon maker that it is partnering with kerfless wafer start-up 1366 Technologies is a powerful sign that this could change soon. 1366 had already secured US$32.5 million in its series C round, and additionally holds a contract to supply Hanwha Q Cells with 700 MW of its Direct Wafer product.
Wacker Chemie’s choice to supply another $15 million equity investment – bringing the series C round to $47.5 million – is a very strong endorsement. The German chemical maker is one of the most established companies in the polysilicon industry, and the only Western polysilicon maker to evade Chinese tariffs.
In addition to the equity investment, Wacker has agreed to supply the majority of polysilicon which 1366 needs for the commercial-scale facility which it is planning, which the company says guarantees access to high-quality materials.
Finally, the partnership will include technical collaboration between the two companies, which will involve not only Wacker’s silicon knowledge but its facility design, engineering and construction experience.
“We see the potential for the Direct Wafer technology to provide an excellent contribution to accelerate global solar adoption,” stated Wacker Polysilicon President Ewald Schindlbeck. “1366 has developed a commercially valid answer to a long-time manufacturing challenge.”
1366 is planning a new factory in Upstate New York, which will have the capacity to produce 250 MW of Direct Wafers annually, as the first commercial-scale facility for kerfless wafers in the world. But while the company notes that the $15 million that Wacker is supplying will pay for the first $15 million in silicon it needs for the factory, the New York facility is behind schedule.
1366 had earlier announced plans to begin construction in the second quarter of 2016, and today reported that while site work is being done, that the facility has not yet broken ground.
“We’re currently going through environmental reviews and other requisite tasks (utilities to the site, etc.) associated with readying the a new site – we’re the first tenant in what will eventually become a large advanced manufacturing park – and are working very closely with the State to move things along as quickly as possible,” 1366 Spokesperon Laureen Sanderson told pv magazine. “The construction timeline is contingent on how quickly these early critical efforts proceed.”
Sanderson describes the Wacker deal as an important milestone for the factory. “The Wacker partnership not only demonstrates market acceptance of the technology, it puts the factory on very solid financial footing,” she stated.
Update: This article was updated at 10:00 AM Eastern Time on June 28 to include a reply from 1366 Technologies.