ASE Americas Wins Funding for PV Project

Photovoltaic manufacturer ASE Americas has been awarded US$1.8 million by the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology…

Billerica, Massachusetts – October 16, 2002 [SolarAccess.com] Photovoltaic manufacturer ASE Americas has been awarded US$1.8 million by the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The award was one of 40 potentially totaling US$101.6 million in ATP funding matched by an industry cost-share of US$92 million if carried through to completion. These awards were selected from proposals submitted to the ATP 2002 competition. ASE Americas will use the funds to develop advanced Continuous Silicon Wafer Manufacturing technology for making low-cost, high-strength photovoltaic silicon wafers that integrate crystal growing and wafer cutting, operates continuously, and uses readily available silicon feedstock. The project is expected to last 3 years and cost an estimated US$5.5 million. In achieving the award, ASE Americas proposes a large technological leap in wafer production to reduce manufacturing costs of PV – a continuous production method that integrates crystal growing and wafer cutting. The company has developed one key element of the process, a method for growing silicon in ribbon form as a hollow, octagonal tube. The faces of the octagon are laser-cut into silicon wafers with little waste. ASE currently produces 20 MW per year of silicon wafers using this method at its Billerica, Massachusetts facility. (In conventional plants, the silicon crystal is grown as a solid cylinder, which is cut by saws, and, as a result, nearly half the silicon is wasted.) The existing ASE technology is still a batch process, however, requiring several material handling steps. The ATP project will develop a continuous, fully integrated process from melted feedstock to cut wafers. Major elements include a fiber-optic laser-beam delivery system to cut crystal facets that will service five crystal-growth stations, a collection system to keep dust and debris generated by laser cutting out of the ribbon-silicon melt in the crucible below, and a novel tube-lifting mechanism to permit sequential laser cutting of wafers from the top of the octagonal crystal tubes as they grow. Investments in wafer manufacturing processes are typically directed toward low-risk incremental improvements. This new method promises a high payoff but because of the high risk ASE has been unable to find funding to proceed without ATP support. ASE estimates that this new method will lower manufacturing costs by 45 to 65 percent.
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