By Claire West
Cambridge Enterprise, the University of Cambridge’s commercialisation office, and the Carbon Trust today announced the launch of Eight19 Limited, a new solar energy company which will develop and manufacture high performance, lower cost plastic solar cells for high-growth volume markets.
Spun-out from the Carbon Trust’s Cambridge University-TTP Advanced Photovoltaic Research Accelerator, this latest commercial phase will focus efforts on developing product prototypes, backed by a £4.5m investment from the Carbon Trust and leading international specialty chemicals company Rhodia.
Eight19, so called as it takes 8 minutes and 19 seconds for light to travel from the sun to the earth, has been created in partnership with Professor Sir Richard Friend, Professor Henning Sirringhaus and Professor Neil Greenham of Cambridge’s internationally renowned Cavendish Laboratory, and technology development company TTP.
With improvements in efficiency and lifetime, breakthroughs in organic photovoltaic technology could provide solar power at a price substantially lower than that offered by 1st and 2nd generation technologies for certain applications, which could open up new markets for solar.
Eight19’s focus on the low cost potential of solar cells made with semiconducting plastics (also known as organic photovoltaics, or OPV) is built on the Cavendish Laboratory’s capability to develop techniques for fabricating large scale plastic electronic devices on flexible materials using roll-to-roll processes. The company will continue to be actively engaged with the Cavendish and its innovative research output.
The market for organic solar cells has the potential to reach $500 million by 2015 and to grow four fold to $2 billion by 2020 (Nanomarkets, 2009) driven by applications such as building-integrated photovoltaics, and could save up to 900 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050 — some 1.5 times the UK’s current annual emissions.
The Eight19 team is pursuing a design-for-manufacture strategy that focuses on the unique attributes of organic photovoltaics, combining both specific product performance characteristics and low cost of energy.
Unlike other more familiar thin film solar platforms, organic solar cells are not inherently limited by constraints around material supply and toxicity, and benefit from a number of fundamental advantages including potentially very low cost production enabled by low temperature and high throughput processing typical of plastic films. Organic solar cells potentially deliver further value throughout the supply chain, from ease of installation for construction companies to producers seeking simplified manufacturing integration.
Dr Robert Trezona, Head of R&D at the Carbon Trust said, “The launch of Eight19 and the deployment of low cost organic solar cells could help to revolutionise solar power production by opening up new markets. Cost reduction through the development of advanced technology and innovative design are key to driving forward mass production and making solar power more affordable.”
“This investment is perfectly in line with our strategy to explore new promising market segments fitting with our sustainable development commitment. Furthermore, we are convinced that open innovation is key to leverage our research and development capability. We are happy to work in close partnership with prominent scientists to develop this breakthrough technology”, explains Pascal Juery, Group Executive Vice-President of Rhodia.
Professor Sir Richard Friend, Co-founder of Eight19 commented, “This represents a great opportunity to transfer new technology out of the university, based on recent advances in fundamental science. Solar cells made with organic semiconductors work very differently to those made with silicon and are closer in operating principle to photosynthesis in green plants.”
A world class management team underpins the technology development, with significant track record in making low cost applications using scalable roll-to-roll technology. Co-founder and Board Director Professor Sir Richard Friend is a world expert who pioneered the study of the electronic properties of a class of plastics called conjugated polymers and revolutionised the understanding of using these materials to make plastic semiconductors. He also previously co-founded Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) and Plastic Logic.