CaliSolar to ramp 50 MW UMG-Si Solar Cell Plant

[Sunnyvale, California USA]

50 MW (MegaWatt) plant under construction and online by September 2009.
16% and above efficiency solar cells processed from 100% Upgraded Metallurgical Silicon (UMG-Si) material.
Plans to achieve below $1/Watt UMG-Si Solar Cells in the next 18 months.
CaliSolar Sunnyvale plant reconnaissance.

From CaliSolar Sunnyvale plant

At the Intersolar North America Challenges in Crystalline Silicon Manufacturing program session last week, CaliSolar, Inc. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Roy Johnson presented Upgraded Metallurgical Silicon (UMG Si).

In the first slide, Mr. Johnson revealed:

  • CaliSolar was founded in 2006 with the mission of developing processes to manufacture high efficiency cells using UMG Si
  • We are making cells with 16% efficiency using 100% UMG Si and production scale equipment
  • Sampling cells now to module makers
  • 50MW plant under construction in Sunnyvale, Ca to be on-line in September
  • Expansion to 200MW in 2010
  • Announced one UMG Si feedstock agreement for delivery thru 2012

CEO Johnson said:

We are now making cells at sixteen (16) and above percent efficiency out of 100% UMG material. So there‘s been a general view in the world, that UMG is by definition a lower efficiency solution. Our take is that it’s a low efficiency solution if you don’t do it right. But if you do it right, if you apply the right technology, if you have the right techniques, and the right people, you can actually make very competitive solar cells out of this kind of material.

CaliSolar reiterated its business model of processing 100% UMG-Si into ingots, wafers, and cells for sale to module manufacturers and is delivering sample cells to them now for evaluation.

UMG-Si Update
Even with spot Polysilicon at ~$70/kg, CaliSolar maintains UMG-Si helps lower overall cell cost consisting of 70 to 80% silicon depending on the price. Depressed by low Polysilicon pricing, the current spot price of UMG-Si is ~$30/kg or lower.

Noting UMG-Si impurity levels are measured in parts per million and the critical importance of Boron and Phosphorus levels, Roy Johnson said:

It is insufficient to talk about how many nines of purity you have. It is too rough an indicator of the quality of the material. And really you have to be able to drill in and say exactly how much of each of these do I have. They interact with each other in different ways during casting and handling the material.

CaliSolar claims to have reduced and is working to largely eliminate light induced degradation as an issue for 100% UMG-Si solar cells though work remains to be done on breakdown voltage.

From Intersolar North America

In a controlled experiment, CaliSolar ran UMG-Si material and Polysilicon from various sources on their pilot line using the same process. Although “not a super refined process”, the results as shown above are comparable with typical 15.4% efficiency.

While much UMG-Si has been blended with Polysilicon for solar cell production to date, CaliSolar believes using 100% UMG-Si material will get them below a $1/Watt at the cell level in the next 18 months even before they get to 200 MW scale. CaliSolar believes the cost advantage can be realized by focusing on material quality and cell quality for easy to build modules delivering consistent performance.

CaliSolar is doing close work with a number of UMG-Si suppliers but has not named any after CaliSolar deal validates Timminco’s Solar Grade Silicon. Timminco Limited (TSE:TIM) has been challenged by the economic downturn and announced “Timminco Resumes Silicon Metal Production” and “Timminco Confirms $25 Million Debt Financing From Investissement Quebec” over the past month for Timminco’s Bécancour Silicon Inc. subsidiary.

By contrast, Camille Ricketts for VentureBeat reports “CaliSolar shines with $60M for photovoltaic cells” in early June.

CaliSolar Sunnyvale plant reconnaissance
Since CaliSolar plans to expand from 50 MW to 200 MW production capacity in the same building in the next year or so, I decided to reconnoiter their Sunnyvale address. On the way to the office building, I stumbled upon the actual 50 MW plant under construction around the corner. The location was made public in CaliSolar Takes 138,700 SF in Sunnyvale” by Clayton Constable back on February 17, 2009. Besides a lone security guard, there was no activity or staff at either building late last Sunday morning.

CaliSolar’s industrial park location should not have noise issues like Evergreen Solar (please see “Devens extends Evergreen Solar’s permit after noise deal” by Christine McConville for the Boston Herald).

UMG is out there.


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