Now that Twin Creeks Technologies has its factory plans in place, it might start talking about its technology.
The well-funded startup, founded in 2008, said that it will invest $175 million into a solar panel facility in Senatobia, Miss. that will ultimately employ 512 individuals. Twin Creeks to date has raised over $65 million. The state will provide $54 million in assorted benefits to Twin Creeks.
Not only is that a big number, the date is interesting. Twin Creeks was founded in 2008, well after a lot of venture capitalists began to scale back their investments in solar, particularly startups touting new manufacturing techniques. Thus, Twin Creeks either has something interesting up its sleeve or it's a last gasp of next-generation solar ideas. There has been a lot of buzz about Twin Creeks lately, but not a lot of solid information. Crosslink Capital and DAG Ventures are investors.
So what are they up to? We've heard the company wants to produce silicon solar panels, but produce them at a cost that is closer to copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) or cadmium telluride solar panels. A patent awarded at the end of last month by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office describes a technique for implanting ions into semiconductor wafers. Full disclosure: it's way way above my head, but it sounds like Twin Creeks wants to reduce the amount of raw materials consumed in the cell production process. Some excerpts:
"As the demand for electrical energy based on renewable sources increases, the implementation of photovoltaic technology has expanded dramatically in recent years. Nevertheless, a way of forming crystalline silicon bodies optimized for photovoltaic cells has remained elusive. Crystalline silicon wafers adapted to bear photovoltaic cells are conventionally obtained by slicing a silicon ingot. This process, which typically yields a silicon wafer thicker than 150 .mu.m, wastes a substantial amount of silicon by consuming up to 50% of the silicon body in kerf loss and delivering a much greater thickness than is needed for useful photovoltaic device," the patent states.
"In a first embodiment, the invention provides an ion implanter adapted to implant ions in semiconductor wafers, comprising an appliance bearing noncircular pads, each pad configured to support a noncircular semiconductor wafer; and apparatus disposed to direct an ion beam, constituting a current of at least 5 mA, at the disk, apparatus comprising a mass analyzer, having a resolver power less than ten, configured to sort ions for the beam, while the mass analyzer is the only mass analyzer in the ion implanter. Illustratively, the ion beam is of hydrogen or helium ions," it adds.
In a sense, it sounds like enhanced silicon for crystalline silicon solar panels. Twin Creeks clearly wants to produce its own panels, but this also sounds like technology that could be licensed to others. With solar panels selling for $1.95 a watt and likely dropping to $1.50 to $1.75 by the middle of the year, it won't be easy for a startup to make headway, so an alliance with a large manufacturer is a distinct possibility. Again, we tried to find out more in early March but were only getting vague replies. With the patent and the factory in Mississippi, expect to hear more soon.