It's like embedding another layer into asolarpanel without embedding another layer.

Startup Innova Dynamics, funded in part by Rho Ventures, has begun to promote a technique it devised for killing microbes in water pipes in emerging nations as a way of improving the efficiency of solar panels. With Innova Dynamics' technology, solar manufacturers conceivably will be able to embed conductive particles or other materials into a solar panel without reducing the ability of the panel to trap light. Performance would go up, in other words, without much of a trade-off.

The transfer from the water industry to the solar world is possible because of the way the technology works. Innova Dynamics has come up with a liquid carrier and a manufacturing process that softens a substrate, but then completely evaporates. If the liquid is infused with an active particle, the particle becomes infused into the softened substrate. When the substrate hardens, the particle becomes part of it. Ever wonder how they are able to add sparkles into a custom bowling ball at the pro shop? It's like that, but a bit more complex.

Infusing particles rather than adding another layer has a few salient advantages. First, the absence of another layer in a solar panel or other device reduces the chances that the additional layer will interfere with performance. In solar panels, that means particles that behave like wires could be introduced without adding another substrate that could block light. In TVs or OLED screens, it means that manufacturers could possibly employ this method to embed materials into screens without reducing brightness.

"We are not introducing any intermediate layers," said Arjun Srinivas.

Second, all of the active particles are near the surface, boosting the amount of work they can accomplish. In the water application, Innova Dynamics was able to embed a very small amount of active material (silver) into PVC pipes. But, because it was all on the surface over which the water passed, it killed far more microbes than conventional techniques.

The technique could also be used, potentially, to add conductive particles to desalination membranes to prevent them from fouling. The manufacturing technique works at room temperatures and pressures and does not requiring curing, which potentially cuts costs. The substrate, Srinivas adds, does not need to be heated to soften. It works with any type of polymer.

Like Innovalight and Contour Energy Systems, Innova Dynamics may follow a hybrid business model by licensing intellectual property and selling the liquid. While some large companies are reluctant to license intellectual property in this fashion, this model may catch on, particularly with emerging manufacturers with low production costs but lagging technologies. Innovalight has signed two deals with Chinese manufacturers.

Additives and particles could become one of the big industries in solar. Dow is actively promoting silicone as a way to seal crystalline PV panels, and a host of other companies are trying something similar with copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar panels. Samsung, meanwhile, has touted the ability of its washing machines to kill microbes with silver and says it wants to be the top solar supplier in the world by 2015 from a base of effectively zero today. Stay tuned.