Competition heats up in concentrating solar firms

Cyrium Technologies gets $15 million in funding to challenge incumbent providers of concentrating photovoltaic systems that magnify light to boost solar power.

There are two approaches to magnifying sunlight to make electricity--either concentrating light to make heat or concentrating light to boost solar cells' production.

Cyrium Technologies on Wednesday said that it has raised $15 million to compete with incumbent concentrating photovoltaic cell manufacturers. The series B round was led by the Quercus Trust.

Click on the image to see a photo gallery of concentrating photovoltaic technologies. SolFocus

The company is one of a handful of firms that makes high-end, efficient solar cells. These high-efficiency cells are used in conjunction with mirrors or lenses to boost output of solar arrays.

Commercial versions of these multijunction cells--essentially three cells stacked on top of each other--have an efficiency of about 37 percent, far higher than silicon cells, which are in the 15 to 20 percent range. But they are substantially more expensive and only used for specialized applications like concentrating photovoltaics or for satellites.

The two leading companies in this area are Emcore Solar Photovoltaics and Boeing company Spectrolab. These companies sell to concentrating photovoltaics firms that design solar arrays around the cells.

At an industry conference earlier this year, Cyrium Technologies President and CEO Stephen Eglash said the company intends to compete with Emcore and Spectrolab by delivering more cost-effective and efficient cells.

The company intends to modify the individual cells by applying quantum dots, a nanotechnology approach which will increase output, he said. Although he didn't specify when products would be available, Eglash said that its first-generation cells will have efficiency of 41 percent, and the second generation will have 45 percent efficiency--higher than most cells created by researchers.