The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a third SunShot grant, this one totaling $2 million, to Picasolar Inc. for a pilot manufacturing program connected to solar cell technology developed at the university.
The UA said the SunShot Tier 2 Incubator Award will be matched with $2 million from Picasolar, and the funding will allow Picasolar to engage in full production and increase its workforce of nine to as many as 15 in the next few months.
The company, a startup founded by a UA graduate and housed in the Arkansas Technology and Research Park in Fayetteville, has developed a patent-pending hydrogen super emitter process that increases the efficiency of solar cells and makes solar panels more marketable and affordable by reducing by up to 22 percent the amount of silver needed to make them, according to a news release.
The technology could save the average solar panel manufacturer up to $120 million a year.
The UA said the project could mean more high-tech jobs for northwest Arkansas, and the grant will be used to produce 1,000 solar panels that have the new technology.
"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…," Douglas Hutchings, Picasolar’s founder and CEO, said in the release. "The successful completion of the project will have taken a technology from lab size all the way up to volume manufacturing."
He added that the company is partnering with "top-tier solar manufacturer" Yingli Green Energy Americas and the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands for the pilot.
Seth Shumate invented the super emitter as a student, and Hutchings and Shumate have worked on it with Hameed Naseem, a professor of electrical engineering, in the Photovoltaics Research Lab at the technology park.
The firm completed the new venture development graduate course at the Sam M. Walton College of Business and its team won more than $300,000 in 2013, when it began operating at the park.
In 2014, Picasolar raised $1.2 million in equity investments and received an $800,000 SunShot Initiative award from the Department of Energy. The super emitter received the 2015 Edison Award.
The company dedicated a new and expanded headquarters at the tech park last year.