Why do we get our power from...
The reason is cost - coal is the cheapest power source.
Our technology has the answer.
Solar power solutions have been promised for decades and failed to meet the hype. In 2012, only one percent of renewable energy was solar - and only 12 percent of power in the United State was renewable.
We can do better than that.
The key to increasing solar's role in our economy is reducing its cost. That's the only way solar can make our energy mix more sustainable.
We have found the key. We have a technology that can dramatically reduce the cost of manufacturing thin film solar panels and allow for more efficient solar designs to be produced economically.
In order for our technology to have the impact we think it can, we need to build a prototype to validate it can produce a functioning solar panel. That is what we hope to accomplish through this project.
For supporting us we can't exactly send out our little solar prototypes, so we will have to substitute something a lot tastier - New Mexico chile - since we are based here in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Why does cheaper solar matter?
If solar panels were cheaper, renewable energy could have a big impact on how we get power. Amazing things become possible. We could put cost effective panels on your cell phone and you could charge your computer. It would become a no brainer to have solar panels on your house. Our method works great on uneven surfaces, so we could coat the roof of your car to power your car's A/C or your radio. We could make flexible solar panels that you could roll up into your backpack and charge your phone or medical devices while you're hiking. Thin films are transparent, so we could coat a window in your office building and catch electricity without impeding the view.
Current methods for making solar panels are stodgy and expensive. Our method makes it possible to make solar panels out of uneven surfaces and non-traditional designs - cheaply.
Consider the difference between a cell phone and landline. A cell phone goes with you anywhere, where a landline needs a phone line. Solar is the key to mobile power solutions. Like a cell phone bouncing signals off a satellite, a solar panel catches power from the sun - wirelessly.
This is big for rural areas in the United States and globally. If panels become cheap enough we can more easily bring power to rural areas in Africa and South America that will never get power through power lines, but with solar power they can treat water, pump water, access the internet, and improve their quality of life.
Cheap solar power is the future, but it is available today using technology designed for other applications. This technology has all the necessary attributes to cost effectively manufacture solar panels. This project is the first step to adapting that technology.
Why New Mexico?
We're based in Southern New Mexico. It's really hot. We think it's silly we don't do more to harness power from the sun. While our technology can make solar panels more affordable everywhere, it makes a lot of sense to make solar panels in a solar hot spot like New Mexico.
How it works
Thin film solar panels are made up of three or more layers (thin-films). These layers interact when exposed to the sun and produce electricity. For the layers to react to sunlight, they need to be pure, uniform and all-around high quality. What makes this difficult is that each layer is only about five nanometers thick (you can't see it) and needs to be perfect.
The current method uses a vacuum environment to control the purity of the solar panel's layers. For this to work the entire manufacturing process must be performed in a large vacuum environment and this is extremely expensive.
Solar panel manufacturers currently struggle because it is so expensive to build a facility that can make thin film solar panels and solar panels in general.
Our method will make these facilities 75% cheaper. We do this by eliminating the need for the expensive vacuum environment by protecting each molecule with a polymer. That polymer prevents any contaminant from comprising the thin film layer - meaning the manufacturing process becomes much simpler and less expensive. The polymer mixture is applied to the solar panel's backing and put in an oven. The oven bakes off the polymer and the resulting thin film is perfect.
How can we do this?
Our technology is awesome. It was developed by an incredible team at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Here is a great overview article:
And here are the two patents to which we have exclusive rights:
We also have a great relationship with the Thin Film and Nanomaterials Laboratory at New Mexico State University. The team of graduate students is led by Dr. Hongmei Luo, and the team has tremendous experience applying our technology - Polymer-Assisted Deposition - for purposes other than solar. It is currently being used for thin film battery applications. The lab has all the equipment to make our prototypes and test their solar efficiency.
What will we get out of this project?
In a perfect world we would raise enough money to try all the solar designs we think would work. A full battery of tests would cover six different solar panels of varying levels of efficiency and cost. We could test all these by December 2013 for $150,000. Given that Kickstarter projects are all or nothing we decided it was best to set the bar low and make sure we get enough funding to test at least one solar design.
With a successful prototype we will have the key piece we need to get our business off the ground. Any additional money we raise simply accelerates what we are able to do by allowing us to gather more compelling test results.
Risks and challenges
Barring any major chile shortages, everyone should get their chile rewards. We foresee no hiccups in listing names on our websites either. Delivery of bumper sticker should go smoothly as well.
With regards to our ultimate goal of producing a functioning solar panel with our technology, we are pretty confident about that as well.
Our technology has been used extensively in non-solar applications like superconductors, thin-film batteries and shower heads. The superconductor and thin film battery applications both require the same high purity and high quality thin films as a thin film solar panel does.
We look at our technology as a new adaptation of a proven and effective method. Furthermore, the solar designs we hope to use are not new either. We are simply making them a different way. The panels we will build use the same material combinations as the thin film solar panels on the market today.
By using proven designs and simply adapting a new manufacturing technique we substantially mitigate the risk of our endeavor.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Leon and I both work at New Mexico State University in technology transfer. I found this technology last summer when I was working on a partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory to evaluate technologies. I've spent the last year vetting this technology and putting the pieces together.
We've purchased on option to license the technology from LANL so that's how we have rights to the technology. Because of our proximity to Dr. Luo and her lab, we've been able to work closely with her to develop a research plan to prove this technology can work for making solar panels. The money we raise will go to paying gradate students in Dr. Luo's lab to build our prototypes.
Our technique just displaces chemical vapor deposition (CVD), which is the method used now to make CdTe thin film solar panels and other thin film solar designs. We will use the same designs as these other panels so we hope to have similar efficiencies.
The plan is to start with CdSe, perovskite and PbS quantum dots on TiO2. These designs are all in the 15% efficiency range and are very easy for our research team to do. A 10% efficiency panel is commercially viable in the market now if i'ts cheap enough.
The really exciting designs though are the III-V solar designs which are the reason for our name 35 Solar. These include GaAs - the world record single-junction panel at 31% - and GaN/InGaN - which is used in multi-junction panels that can get up to 46% efficiency. Our researcher is confident GaAs is possible with our method because it can do epitaxial growth i.e. make crystals. Depending on funding we hope to get this proved out as well.
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