Ampulse Raises $8Million to Develop Low-Cost Solar Cells
Ampulse began as a virtual company spun out of two DOE laboratories: ORNL and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Its initial investors were Battelle Ventures, LP,—an independent venture fund formed by Battelle Memorial Institute, manager of five DOE national laboratories including ORNL and NREL—and Innovation Valley Partners (IVP).
At first the company was supported by more than $1 million in pre-seed funding from the parent investors. It was also the first recipient of financial support ($400,000) from the Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF) of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The company was nurtured at the IVP office in Knoxville, TN.
Ampulse sprouted from the concept that ORNL’s textured nickel-tungsten foils used for high-temperature superconducting tapes could also be flexible templates for aligning silicon crystals in a thin solar cell. ORNL’s patented, award-winning substrate technology, dubbed RABiTS (for rolling-assisted biaxially textured substrates), has been licensed to Ampulse.
ORNL has a work-for-others agreement with Ampulse to develop the two oxide buffer layers that most effectively transfer the foil’s texture to the silicon film to form and align silicon crystals. NREL has a similar agreement to deposit the silicon layers and solar cells by a patented low-temperature technique. ORNL’s Parans Paranthaman is working with Ampulse’s scientific team and NREL to produce optimal buffer layers.
After Battelle Ventures attracted Steve Hane, former CEO of Picolight, Inc., to grow Ampulse by hiring a team of managers and scientists, a decision was made to move the company to Denver to be close to NREL in Golden, CO.
NREL has a CRADA funded by Ampulse, with matching funds from DOE’s TCF. Ampulse licensed NREL’s patented hot-wire chemical vapor deposition technique for laying down a thin layer of silicon on two ORNL-produced oxide buffer layers on the textured foil. The three-layer coating will be thinner than a human hair.
Daniel Leff of Globespan Capital Partners and Jeff Hinck of El Dorado Ventures have now joined Ampulse’s board of directors.
"The commitment from our new venture partners provides us the support that will help us bring our innovative technology to market," said Steve Hane, president and CEO of Ampulse.
Hane is confident that Ampulse can beat DOE’s goals of $1 per watt and $100 per square meter for solar panels. "Ampulse’s thin-film technology will use much less silicon than current solar technologies."