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Solar Startups, Part 3: Next-Gen PV (Updated May 20)

Eric Wesoff: December 4, 2008, 8:34 PM

In this edition: Silicon Inks, Quantum Dots, Organic PV, Stretched Silicon and Other Oddities with Potential.

We continue our long list of private solar firms with Next Gen PV.

Arguably some of these next gen startups could be crowbarred into the thin-film or CPV category but unproven materials, processes, and substrates land them in this miscellaneous bucket. Many of these are still in the lab, proof-of-concept stage and will never become commercialized. But one of these technologies might be the “black swan" that changes PV economics. If you know of one we’ve missed, add a comment and we’ll get it included.

3GSolar (a.k.a Orion Solar): An Israel-based solar startup funded with at least $1 million from 21 Ventures (21 Ventures has a relationship with The Quercus Trust). Orion builds flexible DSCs. Vesta Capital Corporation, traded on Canada’s TSX has signed an LOI to acquire 3G for $10M in what looks like a reverse merger to take the Israeli firm public.

Bandgap Engineering: With $1.4M in funding from NEA and MGEF, Bandgap Engineering is “nanoengineering silicon" and “putting an intermediate band in Si solar cells to improve efficiency."  Their CTO has written a paper, “Intentional Interface Defects as a Means of Band Gap Engineering and the Applications to Photovoltaics."

Bloo Solar: Formerly known as Q1 NanoSystems, Bloo Solar has IP from UC Davis and builds nano-structured “bristles" layered with CdTe as the PV material although other materials can be used. The bristled substrate provides greater surface area and acceptance angle. The firm has received $100,000 from an NSF grant and are looking for their first VC round.

eQsolaris: Micro-concentrator solar cells using Kyosemi’s free-fall droplet photodiode “Sphelar" cells with an optical and electrical connection from Energy Related Devices.  eQsolaris is seeking capital for a pilot production plant.

FlexCell: a-Si deposited on flexible plastic film via a very high frequency (VHF) plasma deposition technique. It received $9 million from Q-Cells in 2006.

G24i: Dye sensitized thin film solar cells headquartered in Wales and funded with $30M in 2008 from 4RAE and Morgan Stanley Principal Investments.

Heliatek: German-based organic PV startup with more than $5 million in seed and round A funding from HTGF, BASF Venture Group, Bosch and Wellington Partners.

Innovalight: A $7.5 million round B and a $28 million round C from Convexa Capital, Scatec, Apax, ARCH, H&H, Sevin Rosen and Triton for ink-like application of PV with nano-particles of silicon. DOE funding and $5 million in debt and equity from SVB.

Konarka: “Nano-enabled polymer photovoltaic materials" -- organic PV with more than $100 million in VC investment and grants since 2001 from a very long and probably impatient list of investors including 3i, DFJ, NEA, Partech, Good Energies, Vanguard Ventures, et al. The firm claims to build PV materials for portable power.

Lightwave Power: Solar energy based on nanoarrays -- large area thin-film arrays of repeating nano and micro-sized structures that can absorb, convert, and control light over a range of wavelengths, produced on flexible substrates. Founded in January 2008, their lead investor is 21 Ventures.

NanoGram: The company's third and most recent funding round of $32 million came from ATA Ventures, Bay Partners, Harris & Harris, IVP, Nth Power, Rockport Capital Partners, SBV Venture Partners, Technology Partners, Global Cleantech Capital, Masdar Clean Tech Fund, Mitsui Ventures, et al. Its laser and nanotech processes have applications in solar thin films.

NanoMas Technologies: NanoMas builds highly conductive metallic nanoparticles for use in printed electronics, conductive pastes, solar cells and IC chip packaging. They closed a $3.2M Round A in Q4 2008 with funding from BASF Venture Capital, Earthrise Capital Fund, and NanoMaterials Investors.

Nano Si: Funded by The Quercus Trust, Nano Si Solar emerged from the University of Illinois. Founder Professor Munir Nayfeh has developed particles for increasing the efficiency of solar cells.

Netcrystal: NetCrystal is using a technology developed by Peumans’ group at Stanford, funded by Wellington Partners, Siemens, and X-Seed. Netcrystal’s SBIR Phase I project is focused on the development of high-efficiency, lightweight, non-tracking, microconcentrator PV arrays based on stretched silicon. According to the SBIR document: “The stretchable silicon process can achieve accurate placement and electrical wiring of thousands of miniature solar cells in one parallel and potentially low-cost step."

NewCyte: An array of vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes form 3D solar cells from researchers at Georgia Tech. The research is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the AFRL, and Intellectual Property Partners. MBE is used to coat the nanotubes with CdTe and CdS which act as the p-type and n-type PV layers.

OmniPV:  fka UltraDots, funded by Morgenthaler Ventures and InterWest Partners. The firm uses a thin layer of a non-silicon material to harness solar energy.  Ultradots, OmniPV’s predecessor had patents in using nanoparticles and QDs for authentication purposes. 

Photon Synergy: Pre-VC startup developing “nano solar technology." Silicon nanocrystals?

Plextronics: Printed organic solar cells using active-layer solar inks with more than $22 million in funding from The Solvay Group, Firelake Capital, Birchmere Ventures, Draper Triangle Ventures, Newlin Investment, Applied Ventures et al.

Quantum PV: Affiliated with Desert Silicon, Quantum PV is developing high efficiency PV cells based on porous silicon.  Seeking funding.

QuNano: Sweden’s QuNano raised a 6.1 million Round A in 2006 from Provider Venture Partners, Teknoinvest, BTG, LU Innovation, et al. Its heterostructured nanowire technology has applications in PV. This PV technology was spun-out in 2008 as a new firm, Sol Voltaics, with additional investment from Scatec targeting CPV applications for their advanced nanostructured III-V materials.

SiOnyx: Funded by Harris & Harris, Polaris Ventures, and RedShift Ventures -- SiOnyx’ “black silicon" creates shallow junction photonics with possible applications in PV.  Their laser process induces atomistic changes to Si detector materials with significant increase in optoelectronic response.

Semprius: Transfer printing technology for semiconductor devices including solar cells with a $4.1 million Series A in early 2007 from Arch Venture Partners, Intersouth Partners, and Illinois Ventures. Strategic investment from Applied Materials added in mid 2007.

Solaroad: Solar power generation from a-Si and thermionic temperature-activated materials. 

Solaris Nanosciences: DSSCs via Solaris' “NanoAntenna" (plasmon?) materials with funding from Yellowstone Capital, et al.

Solarmer: Organic solar cells on flexible plastic with an 8 percent efficiency target using UCLA-developed technology. Acquired by AMREL in 2007.

Solasta – Solasta is a DOE funded, pre-VC firm attempting to develop high efficiency solar by separating the path traveled by light from the path traveled by electrons using nanostructures.  

Solexant: IR nanostructures (QDs) integrated into thin film solar cells to increase efficiency and reduce cost with $4.3 million in its 2007 Round A funding and an $18.1 million Round B from X/Seed Capital, Firelake, Medley Partners and Trident Capital in November 2008.

Solexel: Funded by KPCB and Technology Partners, Solexel is in stealth but here’s a guess –- the company develops microfabrication and MEMS technology to integrate mechanical features and microelectronics on a silicon surface for PV applications. These patents, invented by Mehrdad Moslehi describe a 3D thin-film solar cell (TFSC) fabricated with a reusable template substrate. And these filings describe a pyramidal 3D TFSC.

StarSolar:  Pre-VC start-up, winner of MIT competition working on photonic crystals in solar cells.

Stion (a.k.a. NStructures): $6 million first round in 2006, $15 million second round in 2007 from Khosla Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures, Moser Baer PV, General Catalyst, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. A stealthy high-efficiency thin-film startup using unnamed materials deposited in vacuum based on the work of Dr. Howard Lee.

Sunlight Photonics: Integrating photonic crystals into existing silicon production.

Vanguard Solar: Funded by its founders and a federal grant, Vanguard produces thin film PV material using CdSe on carbon nanotubes.  The proposed manufacturing process is roll-to-roll at room temperature in a Chemical Bath Deposition process.  The firm is working with Batelle, Chasm Tech, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Voxtel: DOE-funded nanocrystal quantum dots with applications in PV devices.   

Wakonda: “Virtual Single Crystal" high-efficiency, thin-film solar cells using III-V semiconductors on flexible metal foils. Wakonda claims to be able to produce a Ge film on a flexible metal substrate to replace expensive Ge crystal wafer substrate. The company raised a $9.5 million round A from ATV, General Catalyst, Polaris, Applied Ventures and MGEF. Here’s a link to one of Wakonda’s patents.

Solar Startups, Part 2: CPV (Updated May 20)

Eric Wesoff: December 4, 2008, 12:15 PM

CPV is a zero billion dollar market that looks great on paper, especially when the price of silicon is high. Scores of firms are trying to stake out their corner of the CPV sector in anticipation of tremendous market growth and technical advances.

We've compiled a list of these firms with funding info and a few words on each startup's technology.

They include Low Concentration PV firms, High Concentration PV firms and firms attempting to dethrone the oligarchy that controls Triple-Juction Cells.

Ahura Energy: Pre-VC solar concentrator systems for thermal and solar applications. Seeking $4.5 million.

Banyan Energy: Banyan is a startup seeking funding and developing a set of optics to concentrate sunlight within a PV module. The company claims their optics platform can achieve concentration levels ranging from 2x up to 500x. Banyan’s first product is a low-concentration module.

Concentrator Optics: German-based Concentrator Optics designs and produces Fresnel lenses for the CPV market with funding from Belgium-based VC Capricorn Venture Partners. The market for solar Fresnel lenses is estimated to reach $280 million in 2011, according to the Capricorn press release (Take that figure with a grain of salt).

Concentrix: A Fraunhofer Institute spin-off with investment from Good Energies, Concentrix has installed about 100 kW of HCPV systems and is now building a 25-MW production line.

Cool Earth Solar: Mylar balloon-based concentrator system received $21 million in funding in early 2008 from an unnamed PE investor. At a recent conference, CEO Rob Lamkin said that they were currently using triple junction cells but silicon would eventually be used

Covalent Solar: Covalent is an early stage, pre-VC firm spawned from MIT targeting a dye-based luminescent solar concentrator without tracking or cooling.  The system looks to use both triple junction and silicon cells and could have eventual BIPV applications.

Cyrium: Quantum dot-based triple-junction solar cell startup with VC funding from the Quercus Trust, et al. Here’s a link to a relevant patent awarded to the company and its CTO, Simon Fafard.

Distributed Solar Power: Israel-based firm developing a CPV/CHP system that produces electricity and heat using sun-tracking miniature PV concentrators. The system has a claimed ~75 percent efficiency and is intended for on-grid customers. It can produce high quality heat for steam generation, cooling and AC (using absorption cooling), space and water heating, and process heat. The firm is working with Italy’s Shap and has raised $1.2 million from Israel’s Aurum Ventures et al.

Energy Innovations: EI’s low-profile “Sunflower" is a 2 axis tracking HCPV system incorporating Fresnel lenses.  EI’s VC investors include MDV and Idealab.

EnFocus Engineering: Lens-based, low-profile III/V system for rooftop applications.  EnFocus recently received a $3 million Solar America Initiative award from the DOE.

Everphoton:Taiwan-based HCPV with TJ cells.

Extreme Energetics: With “clear transistor" technology licensed from HP, Extreme Energetics is developing CPV systems and looking for funding.

Greenfield Solar: Greenfield Solar raised ~$1.5 million in early 2008 with a plan to license and franchise a CPV system design. The company's high-efficiency PV chip is a custom edge illuminated chip design from PhotoVolt.

GreenVolts: $30 million in VC funding from Oak Investment Partners in September 2008. Greenvolts has a 2-MW PG&E contract for their low-profile CPV system to be deployed near Tracy, Calif. The-2MW system is hailed as one of the largest CPV systems undertaken.

Microlink Devices: Received $3.2 million from the DOE SAI PV Module Incubator program for multijunction solar cells. Microlink claim that its MOCVD technology and unique processing steps minimizes the amount of GaAs used in the solar cells.

MegaWattSolar: With investment from Scatec and iEnergies, MegaWattSolar builds dual axis CPV “solar trees” using silicon modules and 10 to 50X concentration.

Morgan Solar: Angel-funded Morgan Solar uses “Light Guide Solar Optics" (LGSO) to direct sunlight to the edges of an optical element in their CPV system.

MST: Founded by Dov Raviv, MST will build CPV solar farms in combination with Vanadium flow battery storage. Their website claims the major cost reduction element will be achieved by constructing automatic production and assembly lines.

Netcrystal: NetCrystal is using a technology developed by Peumans’ group at Stanford, funded by Wellington Partners, Siemens, and X-Seed. Netcrystal’s SBIR Phase I project is focused on the development of high-efficiency, lightweight, non-tracking, microconcentrator PV arrays based on stretched silicon. According to the SBIR document: “The stretchable silicon process can achieve accurate placement and electrical wiring of thousands of miniature solar cells in one parallel and potentially low-cost step."

Optony: Pre-VC thin-film CPV.

Prism Solar: Prism Solar uses transparent holographic optical elements in its passive concentrator design. Has received more than $2 million in funding from CounterPoint Ventures, Phoenix-Fire, et al.

Pyron Solar: Triple Junction based 2-axis HCPV with arrays floating in water. Pyron received $2 million in first-round funding from New Energies Invest in 2007. Pyron received another $1 million in a second closing of its Round A from NEI in mid 2008. The funding will finance a pilot demonstration of Pyron’s technology with a Southern California utility, according to Doug Carriger, the company’s CEO.

Pythagoras Solar: Israel’s Pythagoras builds “Medium" concentration solar cells using silicon. Funded by a $10 milion Series A from Precede Technologies, Israel Cleantech Venutres, Evergreen Venture Partners, and Pitango Venture Capital.

QuantaSol: “Strain-Balanced Quantum Well" triple-junction PV cells from this U.K.-based, VC-funded startup with technology developed at Imperial College London. QuantaSol claims that the spectral response of an SB-QWPV cell can be tuned to maximize conversion efficiency under a “wide range of radiation spectra by varying composition and thickness of the III-V semiconductor nano-layers in the active region of the solar cell."

QuNano: Sweden’s QuNano raised a 6.1 million Round A in 2006 from Provider Venture Partners, Teknoinvest, BTG, LU Innovation, et al. Their heterostructured nanowire technology has applications in PV. This PV technology was spun-out in 2008 as a new firm, Sol Voltaics, with additional investment from Scatec targeting CPV applications for their advanced nanostructured III-V materials.

Scaled Solar: SF-based and privately-held, Scaled Solar’s press release claims that the firm has entered into two supply agreements for its HCPV systems in July 2008. The end applications for the systems are powering solar farms totaling 75 MW in the SF Bay Area and California’s Central Valley starting in 2009.

Skyline Solar: Stealth-mode LCPV vendor using silicon. Helmed by Bob MacDonald (formerly of SolFocus) Skyline has closed a roughly $25 million round from New Enterprise Associates, et al. and is targeting large installations (as opposed to residential applications). The company claims its product “combines the best of thin film (low area cost) and silicon PV (high reliability and efficiency)."  Skyline’s CEO provided the following tidbits: The firm is commercializing a “high-utilization" silicon PV system (more Watts per wafer) and its technology is based on linear concentration with a strong kinship to CST.

Solaria: With considerable funding from Q-Cells, Sigma Partners, NGEN and Moser Baer, Solaria is building a low concentration system in the traditional flat-panel footprint.  Solaria’s technology is based on dicing or “singulating" a standard silicon wafer and mounting these strips on a substrate with a lensing system that essentially halves the requirement for silicon. Its 25-MW line in the Philippines will be ready for production by the end of this year and follows a fabless model by using a third party operator.

SolBeam: With seed funding from NGEN, SolBeam is building flat panel concentrators. Here’s a SolBeam patent.

SolFocus: One of the first VC-funded CPV startups with technology licensed from PARC, it acquired a glass manufacturer and a tracker company to control their supply chain and are in the process of raising another funding round.   It has completed the first 200-kW phase of a 3-MW system in Spain operated by ISFOC. At one point Spectrolab was their designed-in supplier of solar cells but that might have changed as SolFocus attempts to liberate itself from the III/V solar cell oligopoly. The company's most recent round in 2007 was ~$63 million from NEA, Moser Baer, et al.

Solar Junction: III-V materials startup Solar Junction CEO Jim Weldon and VP Craig Stauffer confirmed that their VC funding from ATV, DFJ, and NEA was “north of $3 million," the company’s goal is to create very high-efficiency, triple-junction cells for CPV systems, and that the “secret is in the EPI."

Solar Systems: Privately held Australian firm with a $100M investment from Australian utilities currently using a dish-based CPV system but moving towards power tower (?).   Solar Systems placed a large (350 MW 10 year) order with Spectrolab for III/V cells.

Soliant: VC-funded by Rockport, Nth Power, Trinity, Rincon, GE, Convexa, this firm started life as a low-concentration company, now targeting standard panel footprint 500X HCPV for rooftop applications. Their first round in 2006 was $8 million, it received $4 million from the DOE SAI in 2007, and $21 million in Q3 2008.

Stellaris: Funded by King Hill Capital, Convexa Capital and iEnergies with a $6 million Round A in 2007, Stellaris builds non-tracking LCPV with technology stemming from the Northeast Solar Energy Center. Here’s a link to Stellaris’ solar patent.

Sunovia: Working with EPIR, in which it has a significant equity position, Sunovia is attempting to develop CdTe on Si, for a multijunction solar cell with initial applications in CPV. Sunovia received $12M in funding from an undisclosed source in 2008.

Sun Phocus: Early stage holographic planar concentrator technology for BIPV applications.

Sunrgi: Hollywood, Calif.-based private company claiming 2000X concentration with proprietary heat sinking and cooling technology. Seeking VC funding. Here’s some more info.

SV Solar: VC-funded startup with a $10 million round A led by Bessemer Venture Partners and presumably sourced by Justin Label, BVP’s cleantech partner. The company calls its product a “flat plate internal concentrator solar module," and is using an “Asymmetric, linear focus optic with 2-3X geometric concentration." SV has recently moved into a 15,000 sq. ft. headquarters/pilot production facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. and has begun producing test samples on its pilot line

Whitfield Solar: U.K.-based Whitfield Solar is spun out of Reading University and uses an array of Fresnel lenses to concentrate the sun’s energy. Whitfield’s initial products are silicon-based and compete with flat-plate PV panels.

ZenithSolar: Israel-based ZenithSolar, founded by Roy Segev, has developed a modular and scalable high-concentration PV system.

Zytech: Private firm headquartered in Spain manufacturing LCPV and HCPV. Zytech is a Spanish company with captive manufacturing and strategic sourcing in China.  KPMG Hong Kong's advisory practice is representing the firm in its fund raising efforts.

Next up is Part 3, Next-Generation PV startups.