Dow Corning boost for Crystal Solar

Dow Corning has entered into a “broad-based” business relationship with Silicon Valley-based start-up Crystal Solar, which claims to have developed a breakthrough means of producing crystalline silicon (c-Si) wafers with “radical” cost implications for the PV industry.

Crystal Solar’s proprietary technology allows for the creation of monocrystalline silicon wafers directly from feedstock gas, using a process known as epitaxial deposition – eliminating the need for the normal polysilicon, ingoting and wafering steps upon which the PV industry currently relies. 

By using just 15% of the silicon as the traditional c-Si manufacturing process, the company says its technology will lead to lower overall costs across the PV chain.

Wafers produced via Crystal Solar’s process are ultra thin and can boast conversion efficiencies higher than 20%, the company claims.

Only a few years ago, the high price of polysilicon was seen as a key bottleneck in the uptake of PV across the global energy system, driving innovation and investment in the thin-film space. Since then, however, the price of polysilicon has crashed due to a glut of new production capacity.

Since being founded in 2008, Crystal Solar has attracted a number of heavyweight industry backers, including Korea’s Hanwha Chemical Corporation, whose parent group owns Hanwha SolarOne and Q-Cells; Norway’s Scatec, whose owner also founded REC; and the venture-capital arm of Tokyo Electron, which last year bought production-equipment supplier Oerlikon Solar.

While few specifics of the deal were announced, Dow Corning says it would be capable of supplying feedstock for Crystal Solar’s manufacturing process, as well as acting as a supply-chain consultant as the smaller company expands its business. The two will also consider jointly developing products for the burgeoning building-integrated PV sector.

In addition to being the majority owner of US polysilicon giant Hemlock Semiconductor, Dow Corning produces a range of silicon-based products for the PV industry, including coatings and encapsulants for shielding cells and modules, and sealants that bond module frames together.

“We are very pleased to be working with Dow Corning on a broad-based framework to make high-efficiency solar panels at costs below $0.50/W in production,” says Crystal Solar chief executive T.S. Ravi.