Konarka Technologies

Konarka Developing Rechargeable Solar Battery

August 18, 2003

Some of the federal funding for homeland security has made its way to startup chip firms developing technology for the battlefield. Konarka Technologies of Lowell, MA, recently received an $80,000 grant from the U.S. Army to develop solar cellsa small deal that could lead to large contracts later on.

Soldiers currently use heavy batteries to power communications, sensing, and surveillance equipment but have no way to recharge the batteries. The idea were exploring is to apply our cell technology to build photovoltaic, solar-cell rechargers that could recharge these small to moderate-sized battery packs, says CEO William Beckenbaugh, who previously oversaw the semiconductor packaging R&D labs in the Motorola semiconductor products sector.

Konarka (www.konarka.com), a 30-person firm, will begin product evaluations of its photovoltaic cells over the next year. Beckenbaugh expects to commercialize products late next year and ship in volume in mid-2005.

The startups innovation lies in its use of new nanomaterials combined with plastic metals, metal foils, and other conventional materials in a roll-to-roll coating process to produce a cheap panel. While todays thin-film solar cells cost twice as much as conventional solar cells under glass panels, Konarka believes it can make thin-film cells that are even cheaper than glass-based solar batteries.

The military is just one potential market for Konarka, though. The startup also plans to make rechargers for mobile consumer products and for outdoor lighting for the home. Were choosing applications where the feature set of our technology is really optimized for the customer need, says Beckenbaugh, who points out that the startup will probably stay away from the rooftop-mounted-panel market.

Of course, Konarka is far from the only company in this market. In June NanoSolar, a startup also focusing on nanotech-based energy, raised $5 million in venture capital to make solar cells that will cost a tenth as much and measure 1,000 times thinner than conventional silicon solar cells.

Konarka has raised $14.5 million and expects its next funding in about a year.