The U.S. Department of Energy has announced $57 million in new grants to support small business technology commercialization projects in the clean energy sector, as part of DOE’s Small Business Phase III Xlerator program. Among the 33 renewable energy, advanced vehicle, efficiency, smart grid, clean fuel, and other companies receiving awards are a trio of firms working to advance solar PV technology and manufacturing—Applied Nanotech, Microlink, and Ultrasonic Technologies—that garnered a total of $4.6 million in DOE grants.
These Phase III Xlerator awards, all given to small businesses in partnership with universities, national labs, and large businesses, are a first for DOE and build on its existing efforts under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
Previously, the SBIR and STTR programs through the Department of Energy have only been funded through Phase II. Companies that had previously received DOE SBIR or STTR funding were eligible to apply for the Phase III grants.
The awards range from $500,000 to $3 million and will provide small innovative companies with the “staying power” they need to develop the processes that are necessary to reduce the manufacturing costs for their products and enable manufacturing at scale, according to DOE.
The following three projects have been selected for awards under the heading “Solar Technologies: Lowering the Cost of Photovoltaics”:
Applied Nanotech (Austin, TX), will receive DOE funding of $1.6 million for the development of high- capacity manufacturing of noncontact, printable metallic inks for silicon solar cells. The company is developing a metallic ink that can be used to make electrical connections to solar cells, a new approach that will allow companies to make thinner solar cells to save on the amount of silicon used.
Microlink (Niles, IL) won an award of $1.6 million to perfect its backside contact multijunction solar cells for high-concentration applications. The company’s technology features a process to create smaller as well as thinner HCPV solar cells, something previously not possible. It has also found a way to move the metal grid used to collect the energy the cell creates to the back of the device, thereby increasing the amount of light that can be captured.
Ultrasonic Technologies (Tampa, FL) received $1.4 million in DOE funds to develop resonance ultrasonic vibration (RUV) technology as an industrial tool for silicon solar manufacturing. The company’s equipment lightly vibrates each solar cell as they pass by, damaged cells vibrate in a different way than intact cells, and Ultrasonic’s statistical software analyzes the behavior of each cell and rejects cells with excellent accuracy, thus greatly speeding up the flow of production, increasing manufacturing yields, and lowering costs, according to DOE.
“Small businesses are engines of job creation and innovation, and we need their ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit to drive a clean energy economy,” said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. “By helping America’s small businesses bring these innovative technologies to market, we will spur economic growth and help reduce the country’s energy use.”