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Genesee County chip maker secures $10 million investment

The silicon wafer manufacturer that is planning to build a factory in Genesee County has lined up $10 million in financing from a Korean investor.

The investment from Hanwha Investment Corp. will help 1366 Technologies pay its share of the costs of building its first large-scale commercial factory in the Town of Alabama, a state-backed venture that is expected to cost $700 million and could bring as many as 1,000 jobs to the area.

Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies is developing methods that it believes will allow the company to produce silicon wafers – the basic ingredient of solar cells – at half the cost of traditional methods once its 130,000-square-foot factory begins operating next year.

The investment firm is part of a Korean conglomerate, the Hanwha group of companies, which also includes a South Korean solar panel producer, Hanwha Q Cells, that agreed last month to buy enough silicon wafers from the Genesee County factory to produce solar modules with a combined generating capacity of 700 megawatts over a five-year period. 1366 Technologies executives said that agreement solidifies its backlog of commitments for wafers and could help the company ramp up production at the Genesee County factory.

“There are multiple Hanwha group companies that collaborate with 1366 Technologies in two different capacities, either as investors or as a purchaser of wafers,” said Laureen Sanderson, a 1366 Technologies spokeswoman. “The decisions made by the companies are independent of one another.”

The company’s process creates wafers directly from molten silicon, using a method that requires a single machine and greatly reduces the amount of waste created. It also uses just a third of the energy required by conventional techniques.

In contrast, conventional methods of making silicon wafers melt the silicon into ingots, which then are cut into blocks and then sawed into thin wafers in a process that requires 12 different machines and can take the better part of a week, he said. Along the way, as much as half of the silicon is wasted.

The Genesee County factory, which will be built by the state, will be the first tenant in the 1,250-acre Western New York Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park, or WNY STAMP. The factory is expected to be developed in phases, with initial production expected to make enough wafers to produce 250 megawatts of solar-powered electricity a year. That phase of the project, which could produce 1 million wafers a week, is expected to cost $100 million.