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Bridging the Gap: Helping Small Businesses With Big Ideas Develop New Industries

October 25, 2011 - 3:59pm

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Semprius, solar panels shown above, announced that it is building a factory in Henderson, NC to manufacture its high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar modules and is expected to create more than 250 full-time jobs over the next five years.

Semprius, solar panels shown above, announced that it is building a factory in Henderson, NC to manufacture its high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar modules and is expected to create more than 250 full-time jobs over the next five years.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses are drivers of job creation and innovation in America. The Energy Department supports many small businesses that are pushing the limits of what was previously thought to be possible. Two of these game-changing companies are Semprius, Inc., and Simbol, Inc.

Semprius, Inc.

Semprius microprints tiny high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar cells through a breakthrough semiconductor manufacturing technique called micro-transfer printing. This technique was originally developed with the Energy Department’s Office of Science support. Semprius’ semiconductors have a broad range of potential applications – from improving LED lighting to increasing computer hard drive capacity to making tiny sensors for next-generation medical devices. It enables Semprius to combine extremely small solar cells – about one half the surface area of a pin head – with low-cost, highly efficient lenses that concentrate the sun’s energy by more than 1100 times. Semprius HCPV modules have an efficiency of greater than 31 percent.  Their approach promises to reduce the cost of producing solar energy.  

Semprius first explored the idea of using micro-transfer printing for HCPV with the help of a 2007 “Next Gen” grant from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It then received additional funding through a Recovery Act funds that allowed the company to partner with the Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to support the development of early stage solar energy technologies. The company’s progress has been astounding since then: In July, Semprius announced that it is building a factory in Henderson, NC to manufacture its high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar modules and is expected to create more than 250 full-time jobs over the next five years. This follows on the heels of news that Siemens recently participated with others in a $20 million investment in Semprius.  Siemens took a 16 percent stake in the company – a vote of confidence from a global engineering giant with years of success in the solar industry.

Simbol, Inc.

Leveraging the Department's investment in mineral extraction technology through the Geothermal Technologies Program, Simbol, Inc. (a.k.a.  Simbol Materials) licensed and further developed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's process to produce lithium, manganese, and zinc battery chemicals using geothermal brine. These materials are used in a variety of products, from electric car batteries to cell phones and computers.  Simbol Materials is constructing its first lithium extraction plant, located at the Salton Sea in Southern California, that will capture lithium at existing geothermal energy plants, a technology that has the potential to turn the United States into a major lithium exporter and kick-start the mineral recovery industry.

Simbol Materials received Recovery Act funding from the Department’s Geothermal Technologies Program in 2009 to develop processes to extract the materials (manganese, zinc, boron, potassium, cesium, and rubidium) from U.S. geothermal brines.  As a consequence, the company has grown from 12 to 54 employees and expects to hire for an additional 10 positions before the end of the year. The Department’s support has also heightened the company’s profile within the industry, enabling it to raise about $30 million in private investments.The company was recently profiled in the New York Times and Fast Company.

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