The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Sunshot initiative aims to reduce the cost of solar energy products and, to that end, we’ve seen the DOE administer millions in funding for research and development of new solar cell technologies as well as manufacturing and supply chain solutions. It now seems that the DOE has picked a pony in the race to develop considerably less expensive solar silicon. According to a recent announcement, the DOE has offered a conditional commitment for a $275 million loan guarantee to Calisolar Inc. in order being its new solar silicon manufacturing process to the commercial level.
Calisolar’s manufacturing process is said to be innovative because it can apparently transform low quality silicon into a high quality product suitable for use in solar applications through a special purification process. Not only does the use of low quality silicon allow for lower costs, but the company’s unique process uses a lot less energy to produce solar silicon, which is said to perform just as well as polysilicon products made through more expensive and energy-intensive conventional processes. Equipment and construction costs are also estimated to be around 16% of the cost of traditional polysilicon plants.
Calisolar’s manufacturing plant is currently slated to occupy a building previously used by General Motors in Ontario, Ohio. It is estimated that building the plant will bring about 1,000 construction jobs to the area and an additional 1,100 full time jobs as well.
The plant is expected to be built in three phases and, when complete, be capable of producing 16,000 metric tons of solar silicon annually- an ammount the DOE estimates is equivalent to more than two gigawatts of solar power generation per year.