WASHINGTON - U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the offer of a conditional $275 million loan guarantee to Calisolar Inc. to commercialize its innovative solar silicon manufacturing process. Calisolar’s process is expected to produce silicon for use in solar cells at less than half the cost of traditional polysilicon purification processes, reducing the overall cost of solar modules and panels. At full production, the manufacturing plant is expected to produce 16,000 metric tons (MT) of solar silicon annually, equivalent to more than two gigawatts of solar power generation per year. The project will be built in three phases of 5,333 MT capacity each, and is expected to be located in a former General Motors stamping plant in Ontario, Richland County, Ohio. Calisolar estimates that the facility will generate up to 1,000 construction jobs and, at its peak, nearly 1,100 permanent jobs.

“This innovative manufacturing process offers significant competitive advantages that will help the U.S. to out-innovate and out-compete our global competitors,” said Chu. “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.”

The project will manufacture solar silicon from lower-cost metallurgical grade silicon feedstock that is then upgraded using Calisolar’s proprietary silicon purification process. The company’s unique process is said to use significantly less energy to produce solar silicon that performs as well as polysilicon products made from more expensive and energy-intensive traditional processes, with capital equipment and construction costs approximately one-sixth that of traditional polysilicon plants.

Calisolar is helping achieve the goals of the SunShot Initiative by lowering the cost of solar cells through the use of less pure silicon, the raw material for solar cells. Its vertically integrated process, from raw materials processing all the way through solar cell production, uses lower cost, lower quality materials while maintaining high-efficiency devices. This work was supported by the Department of Energy through funding for the University of California at Berkeley and through $3 million from the PV Incubator Program, which leveraged $6.6 million in private industry cost share, and was run through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Publication date:07/11/2011