By Karl Hill
Groundbreaking new solar cell technology developed by researchers at New Mexico State University and Wake Forest University will be turned into products for the commercial marketplace by a new startup company located in North Carolina.
The company, FiberCell, plans to develop the next generation of solar cells based on a novel architecture that utilizes nanotechnology and optical fibers to dramatically boost efficiency.
The technology stems from research conducted by faculty member Seamus Curran and graduate student James Dewald of NMSU’s physics department in collaboration with researchers at Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials. Curran recently accepted a faculty position at the University of Houston.
“This is an exciting example of the potential for commercializing intellectual property developed at the university,” said Kevin Boberg, associate dean of business and CEO of Arrowhead Center Inc., an NMSU corporation that promotes economic development and technology transfer.
“The university invested in the creation of new technology that will soon make it to market,” Boberg said. “This stimulates economic development, it creates funding for the university and its research activities, and it creates opportunities for faculty members and students.”
The collaborative research lays the groundwork for examining new ways of designing nanostructures expected to lead to greater solar cell efficiencies in the future, Curran said.
“This is a fundamental start in the research of novel architectures that we will continue for the next few years and I’m sure will result in further significant intellectual property development in both devices and materials,” Curran said.
FiberCell has received startup funding from Wake Forest and Connecticut-based NanoHoldings, which specializes in building early-stage nanotechnology companies around exclusive licenses from leading research universities. NMSU and Wake Forest are joint owners of the patent on the solar cell technology developed by the researchers, said Maureen Camunez, NMSU’s director of intellectual property and technology transfer.
NMSU owns a small equity share of the startup company. Wake Forest and NanoHoldings are the majority owners. The universities and the inventors will share in royalties from licensing the technology.
Wake Forest and NanoHoldings also have created another startup company, PlexiLight, with plans to develop a revolutionary lighting source that is ultra-thin and energy efficient because it uses nanotechnology to produce visible light directly rather than as a byproduct of heating a filament or gas. Both companies will be located in Winston-Salem.
“The reason that we were attracted to both of these technologies is that they are fundamentally different and fundamentally more efficient than anything else we know about out there,” said Daryl Boudreaux, a partner of NanoHoldings who will be president of both startups. “They give us a platform from which we can development numerous products.”
Both new companies are funding further research to develop prototypes of various applications for the new technologies.