Konarka Lands $20M for Organic Solar Cells

Whatever one says about organic solar cell aspirant Konarka, the one thing the startup is great at is raising money.

Konarka just announced $20 million in strategic investment from Japan’s Konica Minolta. That brings Konarka’s total to more than $150M in angel funding,venture capital, strategic investment and private equity money raisedsince 2001.  And throw in at least $10 million more in DARPA, DOE, NSF,US Army, bank loans and credit lines in the last ten years. 

Newestinvestor in that long list of investors, Konica Minolta, is in the OLEDbusiness which might have some synergy with Konarka’s roll-to-rolltechnology.  They hope.

Konarka is headquartered in Lowell,Mass., and has a manufacturing facility in New Bedford, Mass., withEuropean headquarters in Nurnberg, Germany, business developmentoffices in Asia and a research and development facility in Austria.  That sounds like a healthy burn rate.   Konarka was founded in 2001 byscientists at UMass Lowell and has received investment from Chevron,Good Energies, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Massachusetts Green EnergyFund, Vanguard Ventures, Mackenzie Financial, Partech, and many more. 

Ihave spoken to a few of those early investors about their investment inKonarka.  One comment, off-the-record, was unprintable,  Anothercomment, made anonymously, was that the investor had no idea at thetime of investment that First Solar would hit the numbers on cost andefficiency that they have. And that Konarka was in a sort of limbo of commercial production capability but no production demand — that their low efficiency nets out in no incentive for main stream market adoption.  

Lowefficiency and difficulty in achieving long life times leave OSCs to goafter niche markets like consumer wearables and luggage.  The ten yearold startup has also mentioned tents, awnings and BIPV as possibleend-markets.  These applications could result in real business but itseems difficult to get to serious magawattage and difficult to justifyas a VC-funded firm

Next generation solar cell developers include Konarka and Plextronics in the organic photovoltaics field, and Dyesol, EPFL, G24i, Mitsubishi and Peccell on the dye-sensitized cells front.

OSCsremain a compelling technology.  One of the appeals of third-generationthin-film solar cells is that they can be manufactured usingsolution-based, low-temperature roll-to-roll manufacturing methodswhich use conventional printing techniques on flexible substrates. That is the Sirens‘ call which keeps the VC money flowing. 

Our analyst team at GTM Research has written a report and forecast on "third generation" solar which includes this comparison of dye-sensitized cell technology versus organic solar cell technology:

                             My VCs gave me $150 million and all I got was this Sunbag  


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