DOE commits nearly $70M to silicon, thin-film solar R&D

department of energy sign

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a $71 million investment to grow the network of domestic manufacturers across the U.S. solar energy supply chain — nearly two-thirds of which is going toward thin-film solar technology vs. silicon solar module projects.

The funding is aimed at research, development, and demonstration projects that will address gaps in the domestic solar manufacturing capacity for supply chain including equipment, silicon ingots and wafers, and both silicon and thin-film solar cell manufacturing.

The DOE believes projects will also open new markets for solar technologies such as dual-use photovoltaic (PV) applications, including building-integrated PV and agrivoltaics. These efforts advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 initiative, which set a goal that 40% of overall benefits from certain federal climate and clean energy investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.

Silicon solar funding

DOE selected three projects for the Silicon Solar Manufacturing and Dual-Use Photovoltaics Incubator funding program which will support the development of technologies to bring silicon wafer and cell manufacturing onshore. This investment will enable new solar companies to prove out their technologies with the goal of becoming eligible to apply for capital to scale-up manufacturing, accelerating their path to commercialization.

Seven additional projects will advance dual-use PV technologies to harness their potential to electrify buildings, decarbonize the transportation sector, and reduce land-use conflicts. 

Over $24 million is committed to the following 10 silicon solar projects: 

  • Re:Build Manufacturing (Nashua, NH): $1.9 million
  • Silfab Solar Cells (Fort Mill, SC): $5 million
  • Ubiquity Solar (Hazelwood, MO): $11.2 million
  • Appalachian Renewable Power (Stewart, OH): $1.6 million 
  • GAF Energy (San Jose, CA): $1.6 million
  • Noria Energy Holdings (Sausalito, CA): $1.6 million
  • RCAM Technologies (Boulder, CO): $600,000
  • The R&D Lab (Petaluma, CA): $1 million
  • Silfab Solar WA (Bellingham, WA): $400,000
  • Wabash (Lafayette, IN): $1.6 million

Thin-film solar funding

Thin-film PV technologies, such as cadmium telluride (CdTe), and perovskites have potential advantages over the current dominant silicon technology, such as less energy-intensive manufacturing, lower manufacturing costs, simpler supply chains, and greater lifetime energy yield. Of the eight projects DOE selected for the Advancing U.S. Thin-Film Solar Photovoltaics funding program, four will address opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and bolster the supply chain for CdTe systems.

DOE’s Solar Photovoltaics Supply Chain Review identified CdTe as an opportunity to expand domestic production of solar panels. Improving the ability to use and recover materials efficiently when building and recycling panels is a promising approach to strengthen domestic CdTe PV competitiveness.

Four other projects will prove out innovative tandem PV devices that pair established PV technologies like silicon and copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) with perovskites, an up-and-coming thin-film PV technology that is nearing market readiness and could be manufactured in the United States.

One project leverages the United States’ trade partnership with Canada to increase the supply of tellurium in the United States.

$44 million is committed to the following thin-film projects:

  • First Solar (Tempe, AZ and Perrysburg, OH): $6 million
  • Cubic PV (Bedford, MA): $6 million
  • Tandem PV (San Jose, CA): $4.7 million
  • Swift Solar (San Carlos, CA): $7 million
  • 5N Plus (Montreal, Canada): $1.6 million
  • First Solar (Tempe, AZ and Perrysburg, OH): $15 million
  • Brightspot Automation (Boulder, CO): $1.6 million
  • Tau Science (Redwood City, CA): $2.1 million 

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