Pittsburgh-based Plextronics, plans to commercialize low-cost solar power globally with its conductive ink technologies, a goal that has been helped by a government incubator program focused on finding marketable prototypes by 2012.
“For any technology to be truly successful, you have to enable a new market,” Lori Lecker, director of global marketing for Plextronics, says. “In our case, we’re talking about high-performing materials that have good efficiency and stability at a low cost.”
As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Photovoltaic Technology Incubator projects, Plextronics began the first of a series of projects with the DOE to further develop an emerging solar technology — organic photovoltaics. The technology uses Plextronics’ conductive inks that can be printed by manufacturers worldwide to make solar cells, potentially as easily as they might print a newspaper. This method is much less expensive than many others in terms of raw materials and manufacturing costs.
The DOE incubator program was designed to address the technical hurdles to a cost-effective, commercial, on-grid solar energy solution. By the time Plextronics’ project concluded after two years, it had increased its product’s efficiency and added 20 employees. The company also grew its customer base from one to more than 15.
Plextronics’ product roadmap for the future calls for a tiered approach to the company’s solar development, beginning gradually to meet short-term goals and building on those to increase capabilities.
“Specific to our solar side of the business, we have some near-term opportunities in the area of energy-harvesting applications,” Lecker says. “From there, we’ll see materials with increased efficiency that open up the off-grid markets, and we’ll eventually serve on-grid markets.”
The company is starting a sold-state lighting program with the DOE next, partnering with California-based Cambrios, an electronics materials manufacturer.