pocl_furnace_large1366 Technologies, maker of silicon-based photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity, says its new product, called the Self-Aligned Cell (SAC), has achieved disruptive rates of efficiency. The company says the cell will make using solar systems more affordable — and even cost competitive with coal.

The SACs (see image at right) have been consistently converting about 18 percent of the sunlight they absorb into useable energy. With the average efficiency for solar cells hovering around 12 percent, this technology could make a real difference in the cost of utility-scale solar. By no means is 1366 alone in producing high-efficiency modules. SunPower, in particular, has broken past 20 percent efficiency. But many of these cells are expensive to manufacture and integrate into large solar arrays for mass electricity generation.

That being said, they used to be much more expensive when silicon was pricey earlier this year and last. Today, with a surplus of silicon on the market and solar equipment prices plunging, it might be harder for companies like 1366 to steal market share from larger competitors, even if its products are more affordable and efficient. A lot of utilities and photovoltaic array developers are turning to thin-film solar cells, which look exactly how they sound, to lower costs. This technology requires less silicon content to achieve the same or higher efficiencies. The best thin-film has done to date is 19.9 percent efficiency, and not on a consistent basis. 1366 will need to devise a rousing marketing message to compete with top thin-film providers, including dominant player First Solar.

The SAC technology was created by professor Emanual Sachs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sachs upped the efficiency of typical solar cells by changing their surface texture and balance of metal content. If widely deployed, the company says, 1366’s architecture could save solar manufacturers up to $50 billion in the next five years, the company says.

1366 raised capital in March 2008, bringing in a $12.4 million first round from North Bridge Venture Partners and Polaris Venture Partners among others.

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