NanoGram, a company that has developed a nanomaterial-manufacturing process for solar, said Tuesday it had scored $32 million in a third round of financing.
The funding will support the Milpitas, Calif.-based business apply its nanoscale techniques to other industries, such as lighting. The financing also will help NanoGram build solar panels using nanomaterials.
Investors included ATA Ventures, Nth Power, Rockport Capital Partners, SBV Venture Partners and Masdar Clean Tech Fund, among others.
In total, the company has raised $58.7 million.
NanoGram backers are in part betting on the company’s ability to make solar panels with fewer materials, especially silicon, which has been tough to find during an ongoing worldwide shortage.
"We have developed a process to produce and deposit nanoparticles as a coating," said Kieran Drain, NanoGram’s CEO. "We convert a gaseous precursor into polysilicon."
The company starts with its "gaseous precursor" called silane, which Drain explained is basically a mix of silicon and hydrogen.
The gas is then injected into a laser beam. The laser’s energy helps create a curtain of silicon that is then deposited onto a substrate.
Drain claims the process reduces manufacturing steps and uses less material.
Such material-reducing efforts have become increasingly of interest as the silicon shortage has squeezed company margins (see Could China Steal the Solar Throne?, Silicon Shortage Has Big Impact, Silicon Starvation, Panelists Debate When the Silicon Shortage Will End).
To deal with the issue, some companies have been racing to bring to market thin-film solar, which uses little or no silicon (see Thin-Film Solar Production to Leap Forward and Thin Films Lead U.S. Solar Production).
But thin-film’s weaknesses include a lower conversion rate while turning light into energy when compared to traditional silicon-based solar technology.
But NanoGram thinks it’s got thin-film solar beat.
"The sweet spot is we are delivering the lower-cost approach of thin-film producers but delivering a thicker cell that allows us to deliver high efficiency," Drain said.
Drain said the NanoGram is pushing for its solar cells to convert the same amount of energy as traditional solar-electric cells, which according to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory offer about a 15- to 20-percent efficiency.