Innovalight CEO Conrad Burke sits in his Sunnyvale office before a glass jar filled with a dark liquid that looks like Coca-Cola or maple syrup.
But it’s actually Innovalight’s secret “solar ink,” a proprietary potion based on nanotechnology that can boost the efficiency of the silicon solar cells that make up nearly 80 percent of the global solar market. And it’s finding a market.
On Monday, Chinese solar manufacturer Yingli Solar announced it has signed a technology, research and production agreement with Innovalight. It’s Innovalight’s second major deal with a Chinese solar manufacturer. Earlier this month, JA Solar signed an agreement to buy inks from Innovalight for three years.
“I’m very excited about how things are coming along,” said Burke, who was traveling on the East Coast Monday. “We’re in the right place at the right time with a technology that people need.”
Efficiency within the solar industry refers to the amount of sunlight that is converted into electricity, and solar manufacturers are eager to boost their efficiency levels as much as possible. So Innovalight’s potential clients are basically any company that manufacturers a solar cell.
By adding the ink to silicon wafers, the efficiency of the solar cell is improved by 1 percent. That may not sound like much, but it’s a big deal in the cutthroat world of solar manufacturing.
“The twin goals of this industry are lowering manufacturing costs while you
increase efficiency,” said Paula Mints, a solar expert and director of the Energy Practice at Navigant Consulting in Palo Alto. “Efficiency goes directly to system costs, because it takes less space to get more electricity. Anything that keeps solar moving toward higher efficiency levels is big news.”Innovalight is also constantly improving its formula, and has filed more than 60 patents. The company has 55 employees, most of whom have chemistry, engineering and physics backgrounds.
It recently raised $18 million in a fourth round of venture financing led by EDB Investments of Singapore. Existing investors include Apaz Partners, ARCH Venture Partners, Convexa Capital, Harris & Harris Group, Sevin Rosen Funds and Triton Ventures.
In 2008, Innovalight was one of six companies to be awarded a competitive, $3 million grant from the Department of Energy that aims to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015.