27 June 2013
Sol Voltaics gains $6m loan from Swedish Energy Agency; former REC CTO Erik Sauar invests
Sol Voltaics AB of Ideon Science Park, Lund, Sweden says that the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA), the national authority for energy policy issues, has provided a $6m conditional loan (one of the largest it has ever issued to a company) to further the commercial development of Solink, a nanomaterial that promises to boost the efficiency of solar modules by up to 25%.
Also, Erik Sauar - chief technology officer & senior VP at Norway-based solar manufacturer REC (Renewable Energy Corporation) for more than ten years - has become an investor.
Founded in 2008, Sol Voltaics has previously raised $11m from private investors including Stockholm-based venture capital firm Industrifonden, Foundation Asset Management AB of Sweden, Teknoinvest AS, Provider Venture of Sweden, Nano Future Invest and Scatec Energy of Norway. The firm has also received public funding from the European Union, Vinnova, Nordic Innovation Center, and others.
“Solar will play an increasingly important role in global energy markets, but the industry right now is struggling,” says Viveca Johansson, program manager at the SEA. “The technology developed by Sol Voltaics holds the potential to simultaneously make solar competitive with fossil fuels at market prices while increasing the business case for developers and manufacturers.”
Solink is a gallium arsenide (GaAs) additive for crystalline silicon or thin-film solar modules that enables modules to convert more of the sun’s light into electricity. GaAs is the most efficient solar material currently available but, due to high costs, it has been confined to niche markets, says Sol Voltaics. The firm minimizes the amount of GaAs needed: less than a gram of nanowires is required to produce Solink-enhanced modules. Each GaAs nanowire in Solink is effectively an independent solar cell, making a Solink-enhanced module a vertically stacked device that generates energy from a wider light spectrum than a standard solar panel, says the firm.
With Solink, a solar power plant or residential rooftop solar array can generate up to 25% more power than a standard system of the same size or generate an equal amount of power with smaller arrays, says Sol Voltaics. By maximizing the physical assets, labor and real-estate needed for photovoltaic systems, the price of solar electricity can be reduced, the firm adds.
Solink is applied to conventional solar panels toward the end of the existing module production process with relatively inexpensive standard equipment.
Sol Voltaics’ founder Lars Samuelson (a professor at Lund University) headed the research teams that invented both Solink and Aerotaxy, an economical process for mass producing nanomaterials. A paper published in Nature late last year details how professor Samuelson and his team used Aerotaxy to manufacture GaAs nanowires (‘Continuous gas-phase synthesis of nanowires with tunable properties’ by Magnus Heurlin et al, Nature, 492, 90–94 (6 December 2012); doi:10.1038/nature11652). “Aerotaxy transforms the production of active nanomaterials from a scientific endeavor into a high-throughput manufacturing process,” comments Sauar.
Sol Voltaics is currently producing GaAs nanowires in its laboratories in Lund, Sweden. The firm has already demonstrated performance with 13.8% indium phosphide (InP) nanowires and it anticipates producing functional solar cells made from GaAs nanowires for demonstration by the end of 2013.
Rather than produce modules or sell capital equipment, Sol Voltaics will produce Solink and provide it to module makers to incorporate into their own products. Hence a single, relatively small facility can deliver hundreds of megawatts worth of materials to module makers worldwide, it is reckoned. The conditional loan from the SEA will be used to develop a larger Aerotaxy machine, further refine the liquid carriers in Solink and scale deposition and bonding techniques for industrial use. Commercial production of Solink-enhanced modules should begin in 2015 and move into volume production in 2016.
“We have two goals: to make solar more profitable for solar manufacturers and developers and to lower the price of solar energy for consumers, utilities and businesses,” says Sol Voltaics’ CEO David Epstein. “We look forward to demonstrating our technology later this year.”
The firm reckons that other potential applications for Aerotaxy include producing nanomaterials for power electronics, LEDs, batteries and energy storage.