LEONARDTOWN, Md. – A solar energy startup company has licensed the U.S. Navy’s patented solar cell technology to supply an expanding market for commercial solar panel installations and unmanned aerial vehicles.
SolarCube and the Naval Research Laboratory signed the license agreement in June 2018 for the lab’s patented “spray deposition method for inorganic nanocrystal solar cells” technology.
Last week, the company won a competitive $100,000 technology product development grant through the Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program. The funding will directly support the research and development work led by Dr. Troy Townsend, the technology’s principle inventor, now at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
The solar manufacturing technique uses nanomaterials to allow photovoltaic solar modules to be manufactured using an affordable, ink-jet like printing process, said Jeff Croisetiere, chief operations officer at SolarCube.
“There’s a substantial weight saving, which is a key advantage for large roof structures that have concerns with the weight per square foot. Plus, they work better than traditional panels on ballasted roofs,” Croisetiere told TechLink.
Townsend developed the base technology at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in 2014 and has proven the process with a working nanocrystal prototype and is on the company’s advisory board.
“Of all the renewable energy options, solar is the only one with enough potential to exceed even our future global power demand,” Townsend said. “Solar power is a really nice financial benefit for homeowners. But not for everyone else. In order to make it more accessible, we need to drive the price way down and seamlessly integrate it into our everyday life.”
TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary, assisted SolarCube with development of the required commercialization plan and patent license application.
The new solar cells are flexible and can be rolled for efficient shipping, but they also absorb a frequency of light different from standard panels, which means they can improve the energy production of existing solar farms when installed on top of the existing panels.
The licensing deal comes as solar energy is expanding into American middle-class homes. Demand is surging as federal tax credits begin to sunset in 2020.
Worst-to-best projections of new installations range from 900,000 to 3.8 million homes by 2020.
SolarCube also intends to apply the technology to building-integrated photovoltaics, e.g., solar cells that are also the roof tiles, or windows glazed with semi-transparent solar cells.
The U.S. military sees solar energy as a reliable power source for its bases at home and missions abroad. The commercialization of the military’s solar technology directly benefits the warfighter.
The startup company is working with the UMD TechPort business incubator to develop solar cells for use on autonomous aerial vehicles to increase their flight time and preparing its U.S. manufacturing facility.
“This technology widens the market for photovoltaics,” Croisetiere said. “And our printing process gives us a clear market advantage.”