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Swedish Energy Agency lends Sol Voltaics $6M

27 Jun 2013

Conditional loan for nanowire development is one of the largest ever issued by the agency to a commercial enterprise.

Sol Voltaics, a Swedish company developing a gallium arsenide (GaAs) nanowire material designed to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic modules, is being loaned SEK 41 million ($6.2 million) by a government agency.

The Swedish Energy Agency’s loan will be used to further commercialize the company’s “Solink” product, which is based on GaAs nanowires. Incorporating Solink into a conventional crystalline silicon PV module enables it to absorb light across a wider spectrum – and is said to improve PV system efficiency by as much as a quarter.

Lund-based Sol Voltaics also announced that Erik Sauar, CTO of the large Norwegian solar manufacturer REC for several years, has become an investor.

Explaining the thinking behind the loan, Viveca Johansson, program manager at the SEA, said: "Solar will play an increasingly important role in global energy markets, but the industry right now is struggling.”

"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."

Making nanowires "in space"
According to the company, a solar power plant or residential rooftop solar array equipped with Solink will generate up to 25 percent more power than a standard system of the same size - or generate an equal amount of power from a smaller array.

Solink is applied to conventional solar panels toward the end of the existing module production process, and uses what Sol Voltaics describes as “relatively inexpensive standard equipment”.

Lars Samuelson, the firm’s founder and also a professor at Lund University, headed the research teams that invented both Solink and a new material deposition process known as “Aerotaxy”.

Instead of slowly depositing films layer-by-layer, as is done in the more conventional process of epitaxy, Aerotaxy works by suspending active materials in gases intermingled in a precisely controlled environment.

The suspended materials bond to form larger, uniform structures, with Sol Voltaics describing the process as akin to "growing nanowires in space". The firm says that it generates nanowires within milliseconds, and can produce them on a continuous basis at comparatively low temperatures.

New investor Sauar said: "Aerotaxy transforms the production of active nanomaterials from a scientific endeavor into a high-throughput manufacturing process. With Solink, Sol Voltaics is essentially bringing the long-awaited promise of nano to the factory floor."

Technology roadmap
Sol Voltaics says that it should be producing functional solar cells made from GaAs nanowires for demonstration by the end of 2013, while commercial production of Solink-enhanced modules is slated to start in 2015 and move into volume production the following year.

But the company will be neither producing modules nor selling capital equipment. Instead, it will produce Solink and offer it to module manufacturers to incorporate into their own products. According to the firm, a single, relatively small facility will be capable of delivering hundreds of megawatts worth of materials to module manufacturers worldwide.

The conditional loan 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.

Sol Voltaics is hoping to target non-solar applications too, saying that the Aerotaxy process could be used to deposit nanomaterials for use in power electronics, LEDs, batteries and energy storage.

David Epstein, CEO of Sol Voltaics, said: “We are tremendously gratified to add the support of the Swedish Energy Agency and Erik Sauar.”

"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. We look forward to demonstrating our technology later this year."

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