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Solexant funded to print thin-film solar cells

Valley start-up raises $41.5 million to scale up roll-to-roll solar cell manufacturing process using nanocrystals made from cadmium telluride.

Silicon Valley solar company Solexant has raised $41.5 million to pursue technology it says can slice the costs of solar power with a printing-like manufacturing process.

The company's technology, which was developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, takes raw semiconductor material and creates nanoparticles which, once dissolved in a solvent, creates an ink that can be printed.

A cheaper way to make solar cells? Solexant

Initially, it plans to use cadmium telluride to make solar cells, but in the future it hopes to use materials more efficient at converting sunlight into electrical energy, said CEO Damoder Reddy on Friday.

Solexant has been operating a pilot facility in San Jose, Calif., able to make two megawatts per year worth of solar cells. It plans to build a larger facility with the latest round of funding.

The nanocrystal material allows for a roll-to-roll production process, which is faster and cheaper than other techniques such as vapor deposition, Reddy said.

He said when manufacturing at a rate between 100 megawatts and 200 megawatts a year of cells, the cost of material can be 50 cents per watt, about half the cost of industry cost leader First Solar. Oregon Live reported last month that Solexant is seeking a $25 million loan from Oregon to build a facility sized between 100 megwatts and 400 megawatts of production.

The manufacturing process also allows Solexant to coat solar cells onto flexible metal foils, rather than a glass substrate, which means that the solar modules themselves can be bigger. That lowers the overall system cost, Reddy said.

The company, which has raised more than $60 million to date, is targeting small-scale solar farms and commercial rooftops.

Solexant is one of several solar companies developing thin-film solar cell technology to undercut the price of silicon cells, which are used for most solar panels. In addition to First Solar and Abound Solar, General Electric plans on making cadmium telluride thin film cells.

However, scaling up promising solar manufacturing technology has proven to be difficult. In addition to the technical issues of producing at larger scale, smaller companies with new technologies face a challenge in finding financing for solar projects.