Picasolar Receives $800k DOE Grant for Solar Efficiency

Picasolar Receives $800k DOE Grant for Solar Efficiency
Douglas Hutchings (center), explains the Picasolar technology to Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe with UA electrical engineering professor Hameed Naseem (left) after Silicon Solar Solutions received a 2013 SunShot Incubator Award. (University of Arkansas)

Fayetteville solar startup Picasolar has been awarded a U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Tier 1 Incubator Award to further develop its patent-pending process to increase the efficiency of solar cells.

Picasolar is a University of Arkansas startup, a client firm of the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority and a sister company to Fayetteville's Silicon Solar Solutions, a client firm of Innovate Arkansas which last year received a $500,000 SunShot grant to commercialize Picasolar technology. That award represented the first time an Arkansas firm had been included in the SunShot Initiative.

The $800,000 DOE grant will be matched by $200,000 from Picasolar. Douglas Hutchings, CEO of both Picasolar and Silicon Solar Solutions, said the SunShot awards are the most prestigious and competitive grants a solar startup can receive.

"We are very pleased to receive the continuation of funding from the SunShot Incubator Program," Hutchings said in a news release. "The goal of the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is to get solar energy to 6 cents per kilowatt hour by 2020 and in doing so making solar one of the most cost-effective forms of electricity generation on the planet. It is exciting to think that a technology invented in Fayetteville by UofA graduates can play a big role in this process."

Picasolar was one of 20 small businesses receiving SunShot grants totaling more than $14 million that were announced Wednesday by Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Picasolar and Silicon Solar Solutions are based in the Genesis Technology Incubator at the UA's Arkansas Research and Technology Park. Hutchings founded Silicon Solar in 2008 while a graduate student at the UA, and the company owns a majority interest in Picasolar.

Last year, Picasolar submitted an application for a full patent on a self-aligned hydrogenated selective emitter for N-type solar cells. The emitter was invented by Seth Shumate, a UA doctoral candidate and CTO for Picasolar and Silicon Solar.

Company officials believe it could improve the efficiency of solar cells by 15 percent and save an average-sized solar panel manufacturer $120 million annually, ultimately making solar panels more affordable for consumers.

Picasolar will continue to work with research partners at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Roth & Rau, a German solar energy company, and has added China-based Yingli Solar, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels, as a partner on the new award, Hutchings said.

"The SunShot program is phenomenal," Hutchings said. "In addition to the financial support, we get to work with world-class scientists at Department of Energy national labs for third-party validation and technical expertise. This award is a huge milestone for Picasolar."

Hutchings believes the emitter may represent the "single largest technology leap in solar power in 40 years."