26 June 2011
NUtech Ventures and Rare Earth Solar have announced an exclusive license agreement involving technology that replaces the typical semiconductor materials now used in solar cells with rare earth elements. NUtech Ventures is a nonprofit organization that forms partnerships between University of Nebraska researchers and the private sector.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor of chemistry Chin Li “Barry” Cheung and his then-doctoral student Joseph Brewer developed the patent-pending technology. Rare earth elements are used to make many high-tech goods and despite their name are more readily available and less expensive than competing commercial materials such as tellurium, indium, and gallium.
“Our technology will be competitive with current solar options,” said Brewer, founder and chief technology officer of Rare Earth Solar. “We expect our research and development efforts to result in commercial solar panels that will produce electricity near the efficiency level of current solar panel technology.”
Rare Earth Solar is a startup that is securing a manufacturing site in Beatrice, Nebraska and will be the first solar panel manufacturer the state. The company plans to start manufacturing some time in 2013, with 28 MW of annual production for the first year.
Allen Kruse, the co-founder and CEO of Rare Earth Solar, says "This is not a spin off of what currently exists; it truly is a completely new material system. We have been able to reproduce multiple cells at various sizes and are now working on the basic engineering to scale up to a full size module, essentially getting voltage and current where we want it, to meet the largest industry demand."
The company will be selling a glass-on-glass thin film photovoltaic module. Kruse says that the company’s unique process utilizing rare earth elements and turnkey equipment will produce panels that are more durable and cost-effective than many thin film panels currently available on the market.
The company will enter the market with panels that have between 7% and 10% efficiency. "Although 7% to 10% efficiency doesn’t sound very exciting for something brand new, it’s the cost at which we can deliver our panels even at 7% efficiency that will set us apart," Kruse says. "We are estimating that we will be somewhere between $1.85 to $1.95 per watt retail." The company plans to continue to bring that cost down as it increases manufacturing capacity and optimizes the technology to achieve higher efficiency.
For more information on rare earth elements, see the Solar Novus Today article "Rare Earth Elements Not So Rare in US".
Written by Nancy Lamontagne, Contributing Editor - US