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1366 Technologies: The federal government’s latest $150 million bet

Credit: PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF

Despite past high-profile failures, the Department of Energy is again backing an ambitious solar start-up. This time, 1366 Technologies says, things will be different.

Erin Ailworth had the full story in yesterday’s Globe, and the potential payoff for Massachusetts is good: The company just opened a $6 million Bedford pilot plant that will help pioneer a process that makes silicon wafers in 20 seconds as opposed to days.

But despite the promising technology, there’s a fair amount of skepticism. MIT Technology Review asked if 1366 Technologies could break the Solyndra curse, referencing one of those high-profile, publicly-financed solar flameouts.

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1366 Technologies said it will be difference: The company’s early expansion and research has been privately financed, and executives have said the company won’t touch the $150 million loan guarantee until its ready to expand production to work at scale and when the technology, and market for the wafers, have been proven.

But just like previous solar efforts, one threat stands supreme: Cheap Chinese manufacturing, which is heavily subsidized by the government there.

“I don’t know that it’s ever going to be competitive with cheap solar cells that come from you know where: China,” an analyst told Ailworth. “I mean, they’re just never going to be able to compete with that, I’m sorry. It’s not going to end well.”

The Hive had previously hosted a point/counterpoint on whether these sorts of investments helped spur new industries — or were simply dangerous risks of scarce tax dollars.

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