12 January 2012 Semprius Inc of Durham, NC, USA, which designs and manufactures high-concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar modules, has secured an additional $3m in its latest venture funding round involving Morgan Creek Capital Management, as well as existing shareholders Illinois Emerging Technologies Fund (a fund managed by IllinoisVENTURES) and In-Q-Tel. This latest tranche of funding is a follow-on to the $20m Series C round (closed in July 2011), led by Siemens Venture Capital and joined by existing investors Arch Venture Partners, Applied Ventures, Intersouth Partners, and GVC Investment. Previously, after being spun out of the University of Illinois in 2005, Semprius had raised a $4.7m round A in 2007 and won an extra $7.9m round in 2009. Also last July, Semprius received an incentives package via North Carolina Department of Commerce worth more than $7.88m to construct a pilot plant in Henderson, NC. Proceeds from the new funding will be used to speed construction of a pilot plant to produce high-efficiency, low-cost solar modules, with an annual capacity of 5MW (expandable to 35MW).|
The pilot line will be used to scale up and optimize production for Semprius’ subsequent large-capacity plants. In addition, Gregory Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables, has joined Semprius’ board of directors. Wolf leads Duke Energy’s non-regulated renewable power business, which delivers wind and solar energy solutions for customers throughout the USA. “There is a large market opportunity for Semprius as they capitalize on the growing global demand for utility-scale solar,” says Wolf. Semprius delivers a unique HCPV module design that begins with its proprietary micro-transfer printing process. This enables use of what are reckoned to be the world’s smallest solar cell – about the size of a pencil point – to create modules with what are claimed to be unmatched cost and performance advantages.
Semprius’ HCPV modules use high-performance glass lenses to focus sunlight onto very small, highly efficient triple-junction gallium arsenide-based microcells (600µm by 600µm in area and less than 10µm thick). The firm’s triple-junction cells have reached a conversion efficiency of 41.7%, as tested by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), according to Semprius’ staff development engineer Kanchan Ghosal.
Optics concentrates the sunlight 1000 times so that just 0.1% of the module area is covered with the microcells. The microcell’s very small size enables use of low-cost optics and electrical interconnects, which remove the heat, eliminating the need for costly thermal management solutions. In addition, Semprius grows its cell structures on top of a release layer so that they can be epitaxially lifted-off as part of its patented micro-transfer printing process, allowing it to reuse the GaAs substrate and hence cut costs dramatically.
Semprius also uses an automated manufacturing process, leveraging standard manufacturing equipment and commodity materials, to reduce capital and labor costs. “The additional capital, together with our investors’ and board’s support, will help us advance key initiatives to position Semprius for aggressive growth,” says CEO Joe Carr.
“In addition, the ability to attract an industry veteran like Greg to join our board is a solid testimonial to the value of the technology we are pioneering,” he adds..
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