On Friday, Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu announced a “game changing” development in solar energy. A company called 1366 Technologies, headquartered in Lexington, Mass., has developed a silicon solar wafer that would cut the cost of solar cell manufacturing by an estimated 50 percent.
The wafer technology was developed with the support of a pilot innovation investment program housed under the Department of Energy, known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). According to director Arun Majumdar, “ARPA-E is looking for high risk ideas that, if successful, can be high impact. Those that don’t exist today.”
Unlike traditional wafers–which are sliced from a large block, resulting in considerable losses of material (up to 50 percent)–these new wafers are individually cast to specific measurements, a more efficient model of production.
In 2009, ARPA-E made an initial $4 million dollar investment in 1366 Technologies, and on Friday, announced it would make an additional $150 million dollar loan guarantee to take the company’s research and development to the next level.