Robo solar: Solaria hopes to economize by using equipment developed for the semiconductor industry, such as the robot shown here.
Solaria will be competing with many other companies that have developed ways to use less silicon. Evergreen Solar, based in Marlboro, MA, discovered a lower-waste technique of processing silicon. A group at the Australian National University developed slices of silicon set on edge to collect light and produce electricity. Stellaris, based in Lowell, MA, has created a technology that, like Solaria’s, uses low concentrations of light to reduce the amount of silicon needed.
Martha Symko-Davies, a senior research supervisor at the National Center for Photovoltaics at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO, says that Solaria’s approach may have an advantage over another type of technology that uses mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight by as much as several hundred times. While high-concentration approaches are promising, Symko-Davies says, they require complex tracking systems to keep the devices pointed directly at the sun. These systems add costs and can break down over time. Solaria’s approach does not require a tracking system.
To date, Solaria has raised $77 million to develop its technology, with the world’s largest solar cell maker, Q-Cell, acting as a primary investor.
Solaria’s long-term success still isn’t assured, Buonassisi says. But he also says the company’s technology “is an ingenious approach.” Ultimately, he adds, “the greater the diversity of technologies that are out there, the better.”