Three Solar Players Push Envelope With New U.S. Plants

Written by Jeff St. John

Konarka Converts Polaroid Plant in Massachusetts

Konarka Technologies Inc. said Tuesday it has opened a plant that could produce up to 1 gigawatt per year of its organic photovoltaic "power plastic" material by the start of next decade.

Konarka is one of a handful of companies exploring thin-film solar cells that use organic materials. Organic materials are carbon-based substances that are used instead of silicon, cadmium, copper and other minerals that can be found in commercial solar cells today.

But whether the Lowell, Mass.-based company will find buyers for that much organic photovoltaic material remains to be seen, given that it still isn't as efficient at converting sunlight into electricity as its inorganic thin-film competition, analysts said. TV: Cramer: Solar's Cooling Off (Video, Oct. 8)

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Other organic solar cell makers, such as Dyesol, Heliatek and G24 Innovations, contend that their products can make up in low cost what they lack in efficiency.

Tests conducted by the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which solar companies turn to for validation of their technologies, showed that Konarka's cells can reach 5 percent efficiency, said Konarka spokeswoman Tracy Wemett.

The company's goal is to reach 10 percent to 15 percent efficiency to compete with mineral-based thin-film cells now on the market, she added.

Konarka's new plant in New Bedford, Mass., formerly owned by Polaroid Corp., has converted Polaroid's printing systems to deposit the organic materials. The equipment prints the semiconductors onto flexible backings, Wemett said. Konarka has received more than $100 million in equity investments to date, Wemett said. In October 2007 it landed $45 million in private equity from the likes of Mackenzie Financial Corp., Good Energies, Pegasus Capital and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

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