Solar Startup Receives $2 Million to Advance Manufacturing

he U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $2 million to Picasolar Inc. to advance a pilot manufacturing program for solar cell technology developed at the University of Arkansas.

The SunShot Tier 2 Incubator Award will be matched with $2 million from Picasolar. The award is the result of the company’s patent-pending hydrogen super emitter process to increase the efficiency of solar cells and it could lead to new high-tech manufacturing jobs in Northwest Arkansas.

Picasolar Inc., which announced at an event today that it has received the funding, is a startup founded by University of Arkansas graduate Douglas Hutchings. The company is affiliated with the Arkansas Technology and Research Park, an innovation hub that works in association with the university to commercialize emerging technologies.

The SunShot awards are the most prestigious and competitive grants a solar startup can receive, Hutchings said. Hutchings is Picasolar’s founder and chief executive officer.

“We are very pleased to receive the continuation of funding from the SunShot Incubator Program,” Hutchings said. “The SunShot program is phenomenal. In addition to the financial support, we get to work with world-class scientists at Department of Energy national labs for third-party validation and technical expertise.”

Picasolar will use the latest grant to begin using its hydrogen super emitter technology in a pilot manufacturing project, with the goal of producing 1,000 solar panels with the technology inside. The technology improves solar cell efficiency and reduces the amount of silver needed in the manufacture of solar panels. The changes make solar cells more marketable and affordable.

Seth Shumate invented the super emitter as a University of Arkansas student. Hutchings and Shumate have worked closely with Hameed Naseem, a professor of electrical engineering, in the Photovoltaics Research Lab at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park.

The firm’s business plan was honed in the New Venture Development graduate course in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Picasolar competed as a graduate business plan team in 2013, winning more than $300,000 the same year it started operations at the research park.

In 2014, Picasolar raised $1.2 million in equity investments on top of receiving an $800,000 SunShot Initiative award through the Department of Energy. Last year, the super emitter was recognized with a prestigious 2015 Edison Award. The Edison Awards, inspired by Thomas Edison’s persistence and inventiveness, recognize innovation, creativity and ingenuity in the global economy.

Picasolar is partnering with a top-tier solar manufacturer for the pilot, Hutchings said.

“The successful completion of the project will have taken a technology from lab size all the way up to volume manufacturing,” he said. “We are excited to be partnering with Yingli Green Energy Americas, a top global solar panel manufacturer, and the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands, a worldwide leader in solar technology development.”