U.S. Department of Energy

Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer

The DOE Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are highly competitive opportunities that encourage U.S.-based small businesses to engage in research and technology development with the potential for future commercialization.

SBIR and STTP both take a phased approach with three funding levels: feasibility demonstration (Phase I), prototype development (Phase II), and commercialization (Phase III). Under an STTR award, the company must collaborate with a non-profit research institution. The company is required to perform the majority of the R&D in the SBIR program, but collaboration is optional. For more information about the DOE SBIR and STTR programs and funding opportunities, please visit the Office of Science website.

DOE has made the following SBIR/STTR awards:

Phase I 2013 Release 2

Central Technological Corporation (Altamonte Springs, Florida)
Real-Time POD-CFD Wind-Load Calculator for PV Systems

Central Technological Corporation is developing a real-time wind load calculator to improve the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Currently, wind loading calculations for structures are performed according to the American Society of Civil Engineers 7 Standard, which does not have provisions to handle characteristics relevant to most rooftop PV systems. The new approach, based on the proper orthogonal decomposition (POD) method, will use a grid-converged 3D computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis and determine the loads resulting from wind-induced drag and lift forces on PV mounting systems. By enabling accurate, preliminary assessments of wind loads, the tool will help to identify optimal mounting solutions, thereby reducing the installation costs of PV systems.

Direct Solar, LLC (Fort Collins, Colorado)
Novel Module Architecture Development for Increased Reliability and Reduced Costs

Direct Solar has developed a new solar PV module design and technology to increase the reliability of PV modules. The patent-pending architecture uses a specialized, two-part edge seal incorporating high strength, UV-tolerant silicone, and low-moisture vapor transmission polymers in conjunction with a separate desiccant material. The modules are fabricated without lamination, vacuum pressing, or module heating and the encapsulation sealants are dispensed through hot melt injection. By streamlining the manufacturing process, the technology will reduce the costs of solar by increasing thin-film PV reliability.

Janoch Engineering, LLC (Westford, Massachusetts)
In-Line LBIC

Janoch Engineering is applying a light- or laser-beam induced current (LBIC) technology to measure problematic defects and performance variations in solar PV cells and modules. By obtaining detailed images of the optoelectronic performance of PV devices, the technique locates defects and measures diffusion length, shunt resistance, surface recombination, and other properties. By analyzing multiple measures of process variability in real time, the tool will increase reduce manufacturing costs and increase module efficiency.

Sinton Instruments (Boulder, Colorado)
Device-Physics-Accurate Cost-Effective Cell and Module Test Instruments

Sinton Instruments is developing detailed characterization tools to improve next-generation PV cell and module testers. The tools will characterize the electronic properties of cells and modules after manufacturing, enabling better process control and reliability testing by tracking fundamental semiconductor parameters within the module. By integrating detailed device physics into the test sequence, the tested cell characteristics can be related back to incoming material, substrate doping, and carrier recombination measurements performed during manufacturing, and also related forward to the module characterization and reliability testing. The project will help to lower the cost of PV by enabling detailed process control and optimization throughout the entire cell and module manufacturing process.

Terrajoule Corporation (Redwood City, California)
Terrajoule Modular Distributed CSP with Storage System Using Water/Steam Phase Change for Energy Storage and Generation

Terrajoule is designing and analyzing three closely related system improvements for a modular distributed concentrating solar power (CSP) system with storage. The system will be demonstrated at the 100-kW scale with 6 to 14 hours of thermal electric storage using water/steam phase change for energy storage and generation. The distributed CSP with storage system will integrate next-generation heliostats, tower, receiver, and engine modules such that the overall thermal efficiency of the Distributed CSP with Storage system exceeds 38%, including a full 24-hour energy storage charge/discharge cycle. The project aims to exceed the SunShot Initiative's 2020 cost and performance goals by 2017 by providing a low-cost, long life, abundant, and nontoxic material design, and rapid response to changing demands, high efficiency under variable loads, and components all manufactured in the United States.

Tiax, LLC (Lexington, Massachusetts)
Software Tool for Code-Compliant Assessment of Wind Loads on Solar Photovoltaic Panels

Currently, the proper installation of PV panels requires laborious design calculations to determine a system's ability to withstand wind loads. Because these calculations require expertise in the applicable codes and are subject to judgment, they are prone to human errors. Tiax is developing an application to automate the calculation of wind loads and provide recommendations for the appropriate PV mounting systems. The application will feature an accessible GUI-enabled software platform that helps installers easily investigate panel configuration options, the required number of panels, and optimal mounting schemes, thereby increasing the safety of PV arrays, and reducing the costs of installing PV systems.

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Phase I 2012 Release 3

Brittmore Group, LLC (San Jose, CA)
Utility-Scale PV Cost Reduction through an Automated Panel Installation System

Brittmore Group is applying industrial automation to large-scale photovoltaic (PV) power plant construction. Brittmore's automated panel installation system will remove panel assemblies from the shipping pallets and transfer them to the shuttles that deliver them to their mounting positions. The system will reduce costs by handling large, frameless modules safely, simplifying and centralizing material handling, reducing labor and materials, and decreasing construction time. The system will operate with the in-house developed ground mount rack.

Cool Earth Solar, Inc. (Livermore, CA)
Research and Development of an Innovative Inflated High Concentrating PV Module for Achieving an Installed PV Module Cost of $0.50/W Before 2020

Cool Earth Solar (CES) is developing a concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) system that uses inflated polymer film primary optics to achieve the SunShot Initiative's cost reduction and performance improvement goals. This project will demonstrate a module efficiency of 30% on integrated systems, including 2-D concentrating (point focus) inflated primary optic films, coupled with high-efficiency multi-junction cells. The results will demonstrate the feasibility of a high-efficiency, low-cost solar power system that uses minimal materials and increases lifetime reliability.

Glint Photonics, Inc. (Menlo Park, CA)
Wide Angle Self-Tracking Concentrator Photovoltaics

Glint Photonics is developing a novel high-concentration PV module that eliminates the need for costly precision mechanical trackers by enabling automatic solar tracking within the concentrator itself. Novel optical designs embed optical materials that respond to sunlight within the concentrator, allowing the proposed concentrator to track the sun over a wide range of incidence angles. This could reduce cost by enabling the concentrating PV modules to be mounted on rooftops, other stationary configurations, or on low-cost single-axis trackers.

Ideal Power Converters, Inc. (Spicewood, TX)
3-Port PV and Battery Converter Improves Cost and Efficiency of Combined PV/Battery Systems

Integrating low-cost battery storage with intermittent solar PV generation plants is the goal of high-penetration PV, but when PV and battery systems are used together, the converter-related balance-of-system (BOS) costs and efficiency losses can be doubled. This is because multiple power converters and multiple power converter steps are required. Ideal Power Converters is developing and demonstrating a three-Port PV & battery converter concept to reduce converter losses, thereby improving system efficiency and reducing installation and converter costs for hybrid systems that integrate Solar PV with battery storage.

Inspired Light, LLC (Corvallis, OR)
Self-Configuring Solar Tracking System

Inspired Light will develop and demonstrate a self-configuring solar tracking mechanism and controller that will enable low-profile, self-contained tracking assemblies to be deployed quickly. The tracker will be controlled by a unique motion controller, borrowed from consumer electronics design, to enable reductions in size, weight, hardware cost, and installation time. When Inspired Light's technology is integrated with high-efficiency, low-cost PV modules developed in-house, the result will be a comprehensive low-cost and self-contained system that can be rapidly deployed in ground-mount or rooftop applications.

SkyFuel, Inc. (Arvada, CO)
Development of a Low-Cost Ultra Specular Advanced Polymer Film Solar Reflector

Skyfuel is developing a high-performance polymer film reflector with a solar-weighted hemispherical reflectance (SWHR) > 95%, improved reflector specularity with a beam spread ≤ 1 mrad, a service lifetime of 30+ years, and a cost ≤ $5.50/m2. Skyfuel will determine the feasibility of the proposed reflector by demonstrating a polymer-based front surface reflector that has the required mechanical stability and layer-to-layer adhesion, ~1% increase in SWHR, compared with existing state-of-the-art polymer film reflector products, and long-term outdoor weatherability.

Sporian Microsystems, Inc. (Lafayette, CO)
Advanced Ceramic Materials and Packaging Technologies for Realizing Sensors for Concentrating Solar Power Systems

Sporian is developing novel temperature, pressure, flow and level sensors to enhance the safety and efficiency of CSP heat transfer and thermal energy storage. The sensors will improve the reliability, optimize the performance, and reduce the cost of existing and future CSP plants. Leveraging its existing high-temperature sensors and packaging technologies for fossil fuel applications, Sporian will work with CSP industry experts to develop small size, highly reliable, high-temperature, operable, and corrosion-resistant sensors. This effort includes materials experimental evaluation, design development, and prototype demonstration.

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Phase II 2012

Xunlight 26 Solar, LLC (Toledo, Ohio)
Transparent, Flexible CdTe Modules for High-Efficiency Tandem PV

This Phase II STTR project is implementing new approaches developed in Phase I for transparent back contacts for flexible, thin-film CdTe cells. The goal is to develop a top-cell structure for tandem modules to match a low-bandgap bottom cell such as CIGS or Si, and to optimize a stand-alone, transparent top cell with less than 500 nm of CdTe for use in window PV applications. Back-contact structures based on single-wall carbon nanotubes and on multilayer metals are being optimized in collaboration with the University of Toledo.

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Phase I 2012

MicroXact Inc. (Christiansburg, Virginia)
Real-Time Photovoltaic Manufacturing Diagnostic System

MicroXact is developing a high-throughput, in-line photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing diagnostic system that provides data on the spatial uniformity of thickness, refractive indices, and film stress of the thin films comprising the solar cell as it is processed reel-to-reel. This information has the potential to detect a wide variety of processing errors, including but not limited to thickness/composition inhomogeneity in any layer-comprising PV device, non-uniform scribing, thin-film stress, cracking, and layer separation.

Tau Science Corporation (Beaverton, Oregon)
Optimizing PV Solar Manufacturing Efficiency through Real-Time Process Feedback and Spectral Binning of Cells

Tau Science is investigating advanced metrology concepts for solar cell manufacturing. At present, manufacturers lack immediate feedback on key process steps such as junction formation and film deposition. This gap is particularly evident when an offline sampling plan cannot be easily implemented for continuous roll processing. In response, non-contact, electro-optic techniques are being developed to extract semiconductor bandgap and full spectrum photoresponse. These techniques, if successful, may be implemented inline for improved process feedback and control.

Lehighton Electronics, Inc. (Lehighton, Pennsylvania)
Using Microwaves, Coupled Eddy Current, and Open-Circuit Voltage Technology to Improve PV Manufacturing Processes

Lehighton Electronics is looking to combine sheet resistance and OCV dopant density and carrier lifetime to enable nondestructive measurements of PV wafers and cells for process control during manufacturing. The data, combined with photoluminescence and electroluminescence measurements by Wilkes University, will provide feedback for troubleshooting problems, with the final goal of developing a combined instrumentation system.

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Phase II 2011

Colnatec LLC (Gilbert, Arizona)
Self-Cleaning Process Control Sensor for Thin-Film Solar Cell Manufacturing

Colnatec is developing a thin-film deposition process control and measurement sensor for the fabrication of CIGS and related thin-film solar cells. The unique capability of this sensor is the ability to operate at temperatures up to 1000°C. This opens the door to monitoring CIGS furnace processes, solar cell surface chemistry, and crystalline phase formation, which can ultimately lead to the highest efficiency PV cells possible. A side benefit is this same sensor operates better than current technologies in organic vapor phase deposition (OVPD), the leading process for making flexible (OLED) lighting, flexible electronics circuits, and low-cost organic PV panels.

Spire Corporation (Bedford, Massachusetts)
Next-Generation, LED-based, Adjustable Spectrum, Pulsed Solar Simulator

Spire's next-generation solar simulators incorporate arrays of high-reliability, low-voltage, solid-state light emitting diodes that emit across the entire solar spectrum to generate light whose spectrum can be electronically programmed. This makes it possible to use one simulator to rapidly test silicon, thin film, concentrator, or other solar modules as they emerge from the manufacturing assembly line. The electronically tunable spectrum feature is useful for diagnosing the performance of multi-junction tandem cells, where each junction of the tandem cell can be independently evaluated for current generation and efficiency. Designed to operate in a "flasher" mode, light flashes of arbitrary duration can be keyboard controlled. Because the system is based on a modular design, simulators of arbitrary size can be assembled.

Spire Corporation (Bedford, Massachusetts)
Photoluminescence for Solar Cell Crack Detection

Spire Corporation is developing an automated system using photoluminescence (PL) imaging for detecting microcracks in mono- and multi-crystalline silicon solar cells. Unlike electroluminescence, which requires probing of a cell that is complete with electrical contacts, PL is a non-contact technique that can be used to monitor cell quality at any step in the cell fabrication process. High-quality, 1-megapixel PL images of 156-mm-square cells are being obtained with a laser illuminator and an infrared linescan camera in 2.3 seconds or less. Image processing software is being developed to automatically identify cells with microcracks. A prototype high throughput (1,200 cells/hour) system is being built and tested.

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Phase I 2011

Nano EnerTex, Inc. (Houston, Texas)
Ultra-Thin III-V Films for Tandem Photovoltaic Application

Nano EnerTex partnered with the University of Houston to demonstrate that ultra-thin (< 1 micron) dual-junction solar cells with practical efficiencies in excess of 25% may be achieved through careful design optimization. The team evaluated the design parameters as a function of dislocation densities for devices that comprise a 1.7 electron volt (eV) top AlGaAs solar cell and a 1.25 eV bottom GaAs(N)Sb cell. The experimental validation of modeling data on thin-film subcells grown on intentionally dislocated buffers indicated that even for defect densities in excess of 108cm-2, top and bottom cells with open-circuit voltages of in excess of 1 and 0.75 volts (V) respectively were obtained. These findings stress the potential for fabricating high-efficiency, defect-tolerant, thin-film III-V devices.

Plant PV (Mountain View, California)
Highly Efficient, Thin-Film Tandem Solar Cells

Plant PV studied solution-processed, wide-bandgap chalcogenides for tandem applications. The goal of this project was to develop efficient devices with open-circuit voltage exceeding 1V.

Xunlight 26 Solar, LLC (Toledo, Ohio)
Transparent Back Contacts for Thin CdTe-Based Tandem Cells

Xunlight 26 Solar is building on its Phase I effort with a Phase II 2012 project.

Luminit, LLC (Torrance, California)
Holographic Building Integrated Photovoltaic (HBIPV) Technology

Luminit developed a holographic building integrated photovoltaic (HBIPV) technology using highly efficient multiplexed holograms with expanded bandwidth and PV cells. The development of the HBIPV technology is intended to replace the old building materials or structures, giving a push to new aesthetics in the building industry while adding PV generation for increased solar energy yield.

Creative Light Source, Inc. (Boulder, Colorado)
Holographic Passively Tracking Planar Solar Concentrator

Creative Light Source developed a holographic solar concentrator based on the concept of an inexpensive holographic film applied to a 2-mm-thick panel of glass or plastic. Photons are captured by the hologram, trapped within the panel and funneled via internal reflection to thin PV strips at the panel edge. One of the advantages of using this technology in a solar panel is that the holograms provide the ability to track the sun without any moving parts. The panels are fixed in space and multiple hologram layers are used to trap the sun's light from different angles.

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Phase II 2010

TDA Research, Inc. (Wheat Ridge, Colorado)
A New Three-Part Architecture for Efficient and Stable Bulk Heterojunction OPV Devices

The project extended the range of operation of bulk heterojunction organic photovoltaics (BHJ OPV) that are based on poly(3-hexyl)thiophene:fullerene blends further into the red (from ~630 nm to ~850 nm and beyond), while retaining the inexpensive solution processing characteristics of the binary blend. The ternary component of the new architectures was selected from a range of soluble yet relatively easy-to-synthesize organic dye molecules. Issues related to device stability were addressed by eliminating chemically unstable materials, which are unnecessary in the new architecture.

SVV Technology Innovations, Inc. (Sacramento, California)
Concentrator PV Receiver Based on Crystalline Si Cells

The project aimed to solve the problem of inherent complexity in concentrating photovoltaics (CPV) by developing an innovative module. The CPV module employs a novel slat-array solar concentrator and a linear receiver based on off-the-shelf crystalline silicon cells. The open web frame concentrator structure offers a low-cost alternative to parabolic trough collectors. It also reduces the wind drag, thereby reducing the weight of the support frame as well as providing a highly uniform concentrated flux on the cells without losses associated with secondary optics.

MicroLink Devices (Niles, Illinois)
Backside Contact Multijunction Solar Cells for High Concentration Applications

This project developed a method for fabricating multijunction solar cells with backside contacts to improve cell efficiency under high concentration. Backside contacts have been applied to crystalline solar cells to achieve record efficiencies by reducing grid shadowing and resistive losses. Under high optical concentrations used in CPV systems, the losses associated with the topside grid metal increases significantly. The fabrication process developed etches via holes in the epitaxial structures to move the electrical grid to the backside of the device.

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Phase II 2010 Recovery Act

Nrgtek, Inc. (Yorba Linda, California)
A Solar-Assisted Seawater Desalination System

Nrgtek developed a patented technology for desalination of saline waters, using forward osmosis technologies and organic-draw solutes as the osmotic agent. These organic solutes have the property of solubility inversion, allowing them to phase separate from aqueous solutions at higher temperatures. These higher temperatures can be obtained by solar water heating technologies, as well as low-grade waste heat. Using this technology, the energy cost of desalination may come down to 1 kWh/m3 of water produced, as compared to 3.5 kWh/ m3of water produced by reverse osmosis.

Versatilis, LLC (Shelburne, Vermont)
Electret Field Enhanced Organic Solar Cells

Versatilis worked to develop a novel approach enabling OPV cells to potentially reach > 10% efficiency by integrating into such OPV structures an "externally" created electric field from trapped static dielectric charges in the form of electrets, hence "Electretic" Solar Cells. Such an externally induced field can extend exciton diffusion paths; aid in transporting charge carriers to contact electrodes; and minimize recombination, trapping, and the formation of space charges that otherwise oppose drift of carriers of the same charge. It can apply to any number of solar cell structures, including OPV cells from the leading OPV manufacturers, and potentially to inorganic PV cells, even retrofitted to existing cells.

Luna Innovations, Inc. (Roanoke, Virginia)
Advancement of Nano-Material Production for OPV Acceptors

Endohedral metallofullerenes, and in particular trimetallic nitride endohedral metallofullerenes (Trimetaspheres®), have unique chemical, thermal, optical, and electronic properties that make them suitable as electron acceptor materials in OPV devices. However, their applications are restricted by the high costs and low productivity of the current synthesis methods. The conventional synthetic method primarily employs the Krätschmer-Huffman electric arc discharge reactor with packed electrodes. Luna Innovations developed and validated a new generation of arc discharge process and reactors for the synthesis of Trimetaspheres®, such as Lu3N@C80 and Gd3N@C80, achieving higher yields and productivity while eliminating the use of expensive process gases and the labor-intensive electrode packing process.

Solarno, Inc. (Coppell, Texas)
Parallel Tandem Organic Solar Cells with Carbon Nanotube Sheet Interlayers

This project aimed to create prototypes of flexible, thin-film, high efficiency (> 10%) multilayer organic solar cells with broad spectral sensitivity. The team stacked different types of solar cells in a proprietary parallel monolithic architecture. Transparent carbon nanotube (CNT) sheets dry-drawn from CNT forests were used as common electrode interlayers in which photocurrents of sub-cells were added to increase the efficiency. The CNT sheets provide three-dimensional structure to increase the contact area between electrode and photoactive layers, and its superior mechanical strength allows for the construction of OPV tandems on rough surfaces and on highly flexible deployable substrates.

Luminit, LLC (Torrance, California)
Solar Photovoltaic HOlographic Cogeneration (SPHOC) System

Luminit developed a new Solar Photovoltaic HOlographic Cogeneration (SPHOC) system based on unique spectrum-splitting, sun tracking Spectral and Angle Multiplexed HOlographic Concentrator (SAM-HOC) technology. Without any mechanical movement, the SAM-HOC tracks the sun and efficiently separates the visible portion for the standard PV cell from the thermal portion of the solar spectrum, which is used to efficiently generate thermal or electric energy. SPHOC is able to continuously convert the focused sunlight in the visible and near infrared (NIR) to cogenerate electric or thermal energy.

SVV Technology Innovations, Inc. (Sacramento, California)
Hybrid Slat-Array PV System with Thermal Co-Generation

The project developed a deployable solar energy-harvesting module, which employs a novel linear solar concentrator structure called the Slat-Array Concentrator (SAC) and a hybrid receiver that combines two energy conversion components: photovoltaic and thermal. The co-generation within a single concentrator module enables higher sunlight conversion efficiencies than can be achieved with conventional photovoltaic panels and thermal collectors as well as offers significant material savings compared with using separate PV and thermal modules.

Asylum Research Corporation (Santa Barbara, California)
Nanoscale Probe System for Organic Photovoltaics

Micro- and nanoscale probing and testing is essential for the rapid evaluation and development of candidate photovoltaic materials. Asylum Research worked to develop a nanoscale probe system to quickly evaluate these materials for their potential for increasing solar cell efficiency and for monitoring and performing quality and failure analysis in the production environment.

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Phase II 2009

GT Crystal Systems, LLC (Salem, Massachusetts)
Material Utilization and Waste Reduction through Kerf Recycling

Silicon bars were sliced into wafers using diamond-plated wire to avoid contaminating the silicon kerf (sawdust). The kerf was processed into feedstock by melting and directional solidification. The recycling reduced the need for virgin silicon and minimized environmental disposal challenges.