World’s largest roll-to-roll, thin-film solar manufacturing facility opens

Konarka Technologies Inc. announced that the company has opened the largest roll-to-roll flexible thin-film solar manufacturing facility in the world. The move is intended as prologue to commercialization and mass production of the firm’s patented thin-film solar material, Power Plastic. Located in New Bedford, MA, the 250,000-ft2 building previously was home to Polaroid Corporation’s advanced printing technologies.

“This facility has state-of-the-art printing capabilities that are ready for full operation, with the future potential to produce over a gigawatt of flexible plastic solar modules per year,” said Howard Berke, executive chairman and co-founder of Konarka. “Our technical leadership and innovation in flexible thin film solar, along with this facility’s capabilities of producing in excess of 10 million square meters of material per year, will allow us to produce Power Plastic for indoor, portable, outdoor and building integrated applications.”

The new facility advances the company’s efforts to commercialize its polymer-based organic photovoltaic (OPV) technologies. Konarka has hired technology and process engineering teams from Polaroid, and says it plans to hire more than 100 additional employees as production increases toward capacity over the next two to three years.

In related news, Konarka also announced that it has obtained an exclusive license for a new family of photoactive polymers (polycarbazoles: PCZ) developed by Professor Mario Leclerc, director of the Macromolecular Science and Engineering Research Center of the Université Laval (CERSIM) and director of the Québec Center on Functional Materials (CQMF). Konarka and Université Laval have been collaborating for the past four years.

“It is a great achievement for me and my team to see the results of our work with polycarbazoles transferred into a useful product for the community, especially in the field of renewable energy,” said Professor Leclerc. “It is rewarding to know that our work can be part of an answer to environmental and energy issues.”

Professor Leclerc is the recipient of a Canada research chair (Tier 1) in Polymer Science, and the author or co-author of 169 scientific publications and nine book chapters. He holds nine patents, and was awarded a doctorate in chemistry from Université Laval in 1987.

 Dr. Russell Gaudiana, vice president of research at Konarka, said, “We recently obtained the exclusive rights to Professor Leclerc’s new polymer family that will allow us to investigate and optimize its potential for increased efficiency in converting light to energy in photovoltaic modules. We expect that this technology will help us maintain our leadership position in organic photovoltaics by accelerating the development, manufacturing and commercialization of our Power Plastic.”

Konarka’s photovoltaic technology is based on the work of the late Dr. Sukant Tripathy, a polymer materials scientist who was the provost at UMASS Lowell and founder of the Plastic Innovation Center, and Dr. Alan Heeger, Konarka’s chief scientist, and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000. Their work underlies Konarka’s technology position, which includes a manufacturing process at relatively low temperatures, thereby enabling the use of low-cost plastic substrate films. The company says it has secured over $100 million from leading venture capital and private equity funds, as well as $18 million in government agency research grants from the U.S. and Europe.

<“Since 1002, Konarka has taken revolutionary lab discoveries from its founding scientists to pilot production for initial customers, and now to full-scale manufacturing with the near-future capacity of a gigawatt per year, which could contribute to the power and electricity needs of our nation and the avoidance of CO2 emissions,” said Rick Hess, president and CEO at Konarka. “As one of the original recipients of the Solar American Initiative (SAI) awards in 2007, Konarka is furthering the U.S. Department of Energy’s vision to reach its goal of making solar electricity from photovoltaics cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity.”

 “With our nationally recognized technology expertise and resources, Massachusetts is becoming a global center for alternative and renewable energy, and Konarka is helping to solidify our commitment to a clean energy future and ongoing economic development and job growth in the Commonwealth,” said Daniel O’Connell, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development.

The company has also partnered with the city of New Bedford to become a Certified Project under the Massachusetts Economic Development Incentive Program, which projects receive favorable state and local tax treatment in exchange for committing to certain job creation and private investment criteria.

Konarka’s New Bedford facility has been retrofitted to immediately begin initial production of Power Plastic. According the company, multiple in-line processing stations with multilayer manufacturing processes adaptable to a variety of printing and coating technologies mean the facility will enable it to further advance nano-enabled polymer photovoltaic materials that are said to be lightweight, flexible, and more versatile than traditional solar materials.

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