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GE, VantagePoint Join in $28.4 Million Power Boost for Solar Energy Innovator 1366 Technologies

published: 2011-03-02 14:25

Two new private investors are putting their capital behind Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies, developer of breakthrough manufacturing processes that could cut in half the cost of photovoltaic solar panels. New investors GE Energy Financial Services, a unit of GE (NYSE:GE), and VantagePoint Venture Partners, have joined return investors North Bridge Venture Partners, Hanwha Chemical and Ventizz Capital Partners in an $8.4 million extension of a $20 million funding round backing the company.

“We believe their improvements to silicon wafer manufacturing will give solar energy the advantage it needs to become a mainstay of the world’s energy generation mix.”

Announced at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, DC, 1366 Technologies will use funds from the Series B extension to further refine its solar wafer technology. The investment amount for each firm participating in the latest funding round was not disclosed. 1366 Technologies has raised almost $46 million from private investors, the majority of which was spurred by $4 million in federal funding it received from ARPA-E—a US Department of Energy agency set up to promote and fund research and development of advanced energy technologies—in October 2009. 1366 Technologies was the only solar photovoltaics company to receive ARPA-E funding out of 3,600 round-one applicants.

“The interest and support we continue to see from the investment and industrial communities are further validation of our vision, our business, and our technologies,” said Frank van Mierlo, CEO,1366 Technologies. “While our goal to deliver the manufacturing innovations that will make solar electricity cheaper than coal is ambitious, the confidence bestowed on us from the private and public sectors is a direct result of our progress. We’re well on our way to making our goal a reality.”

1366 Technologies has developed a process to create silicon wafers—the main component of photovoltaic solar panels—that reduces the cost of current processes by 65 percent, which today involve four capital-intensive steps that waste up to 50 percent of the high-cost, ultra-pure silicon raw material. The new “Direct Wafer” approach, showcased at booth 137 at the ARPA-E Innovation Summit, reduces the four-step process to one and produces wafers directly from molten silicon. While transformative, Direct Wafer integrates into the existing silicon photovoltaics’ supply chain, providing cost savings to cell customers without added complexity. The company intends to take its technology into production next year.

“1366 Technologies’ efficient and low-cost process produces silicon wafers—the market for which doubled to $7.5 billion from 2009 to 2010—that can be easily fed into existing solar PV cell manufacturing lines,” said Kevin Skillern, managing director of venture capital at GE Energy Financial Services.

GE’s investment reinforces its broader ecomagination initiative, a commitment to imagine and build innovative solutions to environmental challenges while driving economic growth. GE Energy Financial Services’ venture capital team has invested about $200 million in 28 early- and growth-stage energy-related technology companies since January 2006.

“The 1366 Technologies team, comprising some of the top minds from MIT, continues to execute exceptionally well, meeting one significant technology milestone after another,” said Doug Kirkpatrick, Partner, VantagePoint Venture Partners, a leading global investor in clean technology. “We believe their improvements to silicon wafer manufacturing will give solar energy the advantage it needs to become a mainstay of the world’s energy generation mix.”

1366 Technologies also sells the Self-Aligned Cell, a technology exclusively licensed by MIT, which features innovative cell texturing and fine-line metallization to deliver higher efficiencies for cell manufacturers.

The Series B funding round and extension were disclosed via regulatory filings in October and December 2010 and January 2011.

“1366” refers to the amount of sunlight reaching Earth in watts per square meter per year.


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