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1366 Technologies gets $15 million investment from silicon supplier

The silicon wafer manufacturer that is planning to build a factory in Genesee County has secured a $15 million investment from a big German company that will supply the Western New York factory with the polysilicon it needs.

The $15 million investment from Wacker Chemie will help 1366 Technologies muster the working capital it needs for the factory in the Town of Alabama, including the prepayment of its initial silicon shipments.

The companies also have agreed to “a close technical collaboration” that will allow 1366 Technologies to tap into Wacker’s expertise in polysilicon, as well as its experience in facility design, engineering and construction.

Frank van Mierlo, 1366 Technologies’ chief executive officer, said the Wacker partnership is a sign that the solar industry marketplace is accepting the company’s technology, which it says can produce silicon wafers faster and for significantly less cost than conventional methods.

South Korean solar panel producer, Hanwha Q Cells, agreed in June 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 is building its first large-scale commercial factory in the Town of Alabama as part of 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 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.