Konarka Technologies

Military joins with investors in solar power

Andrew J. Manuse.Boston Herald.Boston, Mass.:Aug 11, 2003.pg.22

Copyright Boston Herald Library Aug 11, 2003

Soldiers in the recent Iraq conflict carried equipment averaging 92 pounds.

Batteries, used to power desert war tools such as global positioning devices and night vision, were about one-ninth of the load.

Now the Army is funding a solar-power technology that could decrease the weight soldiers carry, helping them in battle, said Lynne Samuelson, research chemist for the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center.

WEIGHT: Solar-power breakthroughs can help power soldiers' battlefield gear, which can hit a back-breaking average of 92 pounds. AP photo

The Army gave nearly $100,000 to Konarka Technologies Inc., of Lowell, to develop an inexpensive product that uses nanotechnology to coat sheets of flexible plastic with energy-collecting cells, a company representativesaid. The company projects implementation in 2005.

Konarka scientists work on the nano scale - using materials 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair - to inject a dye into titanium dioxide, a white pigment commonly used in paint, said Dr. Russell Gaudiana, vice president of Konarka research and development.

The dye functions like an "antenna," and absorbs energy from both the sun and fluorescent light, he said. The energy travels through the titanium dioxide and a series of electrodes to create energy.
Then the tiny power generator is coated on portable plastic sheets.

"The vision is to have each soldier be his own charging unit," said Gaudiana.

Soldiers would carry energy-making and energy-storing plastic roll-out tarps and patches that can be fastened to backpacks.

Farther down the road, soldiers might wear their power generators. Konarka is working on an energy-creating fiber that could be woven into clothing.

In terms of funding, "the (Army contract) is not a lot of money," said Kevin McGuire, controller for Konarka. The company already secured nearly $1 million this year, he said.

Last year, Draper Fisher Jurvetson LLP gave $6.5 million to what it called the most advanced and reliable technology delivering cheap solar energy, said Alexei Andreev, a company associate. A number of companies added their support.

Still, it can be useful if Konarka continues to get Army funding, McGuire added.

"Once you crack the door open with the defense industry, it can be the beginning of an important friendship," said Mark Modzelewski, executive director for the NanoBusiness Alliance, of New York.

Konarka is well positioned to be a leader in building solar- power cells on plastics, he added. Still, Nanosys Inc. and Nanosolar Inc., both of Palo Alto, Calif., aren't that far behind, he said.

Beyond military uses, the technology might have commercial uses powering cell phones, MP3 players and other electronic devices. Eventually, it might be used on rooftops to power companies and homes.

This might be closer to Konarka founder Sukant Tripathy's vision: to power areas in third-world countries too far from existing power grids.