"Separating the path of the photons from the path of the generated charge carriers." "Decoupling the optical and electronic pathways." That’s what Solasta is trying to do.
The Newton, Mass.-based solar firm was founded in 2006 with A roundfunding from Kleiner Perkins. KP has a few of those stealth solar firmsincluding Alta Devices and Solexel, none of whom appear on theportfolio portion of its website. In addition to VC funding from KP,Solasta has received more than $3 million in two DOE grants.
Withtechnology and founding personnel in the form of three physicsprofessors from Boston College (Michael J. Naughton, CTO, Zhifeng Renand Krzysztof Kempa), Solasta is using amorphous silicon and carbonnanotubes on a glass substrate in an attempt to create more efficientsolar cells that are simple and inexpensive to manufacture. Solasta isjoined by at least 35 other VC-funded next-gen solar firms with similar goals. Most of whom will meet with limited commercial success.
Solastais currently helmed by former KPCB Executive-in-Residence Mike Clarywho has led other advanced technology companies such as GMZ Energy and Nanostar.
According to the executive summary in a February 2009 DOE report, Solasta:
"Provides a photovoltaic medium withindependent optical and electronic pathways, separating the photo fromthe voltaic with respect to required thickness of
photovoltaic absorber material. It does so with innovations in both light and charge collection."
The amorphous-silicon "nanocoax" structure increases current andpotentilally lowers materials cost. The company (which is hiringengineers) claims the process could increase the efficiency ofconventional amorphous silicon PV by up to 150 percent.
CTO Naughton further explained Solasta’s process in an email:
"In contrast to the numerous nanowiresolar cell approaches under development, Solasta’s Nanocoax, which isliterally a nanoscale coaxial cable (think cable TV), requiresphotogenerated electrons and holes to travel only nanoscopic distancesbefore reaching metallic electrodes. This significantly lowers carrierrecombination, allowing more current to get out, and thus higherefficiency, even for noncrystalline materials like (but not restrictedto) a-Si. Light collection is controlled by the Nanocoax verticalheight, while the charge travels short distances horizontally(radially). This separation of the ‘photo-’ from the ‘-voltaic’ solvesthe thick-vs-thin conundrum of solar power, and allows Solasta to usefilms even thinner than ‘thin film,’ further lowering cost and weight."
A startup with a new technology in solar can try to become a PV panel supplier like Solyndra or Nanosolar– but that takes hundreds of millions of dollars, could take a decadesand cost thousands of innocent lives. The company could try to go theroute that 1366 Technologiesis trying – selling add-on processes that fits into existingmanufacturing schemes. Or a startup can license its technology andthat is currently Solasta’s vision.
I spoke with the CEO and CTO this morning. "We look to license thetechnology to enable a step up in efficiency and to allow companies todifferentiate," Clary said. Clary also envisioned a "software model"for the license, where successive generations of the Solasta technologywould continue to flow through through their liscensees.
Naughton added that this was "an architecture, not a materials process," and that the firm was "not at all restricted to a-Si."
The startup is currently seeking more funding and my sources tell me that VantagePoint Venture Partners is taking a closer look.