Picasolar Takes Major Step Forward with Northwest Arkansas Expansion

One of Northwest Arkansas’ rising companies took a major step forward this week, quadrupling the size of its space and dedicating a new headquarters at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park.

Picasolar Inc., a solar start-up company affiliated with the University of Arkansas, is now in a 2,300-square-foot space in the Enterprise Center at the technology park.

Northwest Arkansas is best known as the home of retail giant Walmart, food producer Tyson Foods and logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services, and Picasolar is an excellent example of the kind of companies being created in the region. New entrepreneurs are finding the region to be a great place to start their companies.

For Picasolar, which was incorporated in 2012, the new space and its equipment will help to greatly shorten the time it takes to produce its patent-pending product. That product, called a hydrogen super emitter – improves solar cell efficiency and reduces the amount of silver needed in the manufacture of solar panels, making them more marketable and affordable.

The hydrogen super emitter could save the average solar panel manufacturer up to $120 million annually. The super emitter represents the single largest technology leap in solar power in 40 years, said Douglas Hutchings, Picasolar’s chief executive officer.

“This is a big step for our company,” Hutchings said. “With 1,000 square feet of new lab space, we will accelerate our proprietary process to make solar cells more efficient. The infrastructure and equipment we have assembled will streamline our transition from research and development to commercializing products.”

Radio station KUAF interviewed Hutchings about his company's expansion just before it was announced on Wednesday.

The University of Arkansas has supported and partnered with Picasolar through its development as a company.

Seth Shumate invented the super emitter as a student at the University of Arkansas, and 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. Competing as a graduate business plan team, Picasolar won more than $300,000 at graduate business plan competitions in 2013, the same year it started operations at the research park.

“It is exciting to see Picasolar continue to grow and be successful,” said Jim Rankin, vice provost for research and economic development at the University of Arkansas. “There is a great deal of promising solar research occurring at the University of Arkansas and we look forward to seeing it transition from the lab to the market.”

In 2014, Picasolar raised $1.2 million in equity investments on top of receiving an $800,000 SunShot Initiative award through the U.S. Department of Energy. In April, Picasolar’s 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.

Hutchings earned a doctorate in microelectronics-photonics at the University of Arkansas in 2010. Shumate earned his doctorate earlier this month from the microelectronics-photonics program, offered by the College of Engineering and J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.