Start-up with MIT origins creates light-weight photovoltaic panels

Jun 16, 2020 02:58 PM ET
  • The innovations and also technological innovations of Swift Solar have the chance to change the layout of solar photovoltaic innovation
Start-up with MIT origins creates light-weight photovoltaic panels
Image: Joel Jean

Joel Jean PhD '17 spent two years dealing with The Future of Solar Energy, a report published by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) in 2015. Today, he is aiming to produce that future as CEO of Swift Solar, a startup that is establishing lightweight solar panels based on perovskite semiconductors.

It hasn't been a straight course, however Jean claims his motivation-- one he shows to his five founders-- is the drive to address climate change. "The entire globe is ultimately starting to see the risk of environment adjustment which there are numerous benefits to tidy power. That's why we see such massive potential for new energy technologies," he states.

Max Hoerantner, founder and also Swift Solar's vice president of design, agrees. "It's extremely inspiring to have the chance to place a dent into the environment adjustment crisis with the technology that we've created during our PhDs as well as postdocs."

The business's global group of creators-- from the Netherlands, Austria, Australia, the United Kingdom, and also the United States-- has created a product with the prospective to greatly boost the use of solar power: a very light-weight, super-efficient, affordable, and scalable solar battery.

Jean and also Hoerantner likewise have experience constructing a solar research study group, obtained working at Tata-MIT GridEdge Solar, an interdisciplinary research study program that works toward scalable solar as well as is funded by the Tata Trusts as well as lack MITEI's Tata Center for Technology and Design.

" The innovations and also technological innovations of Swift Solar have the possibility to transform the layout of solar photovoltaic or pv technology," says Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh (1990) Professor of Emerging Technology in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering as well as Computer Science, director of MIT.nano, and a science advisor for Swift Solar.

Tandem photovoltaics

The product begins with perovskites-- a class of materials that are cheap, plentiful, as well as fantastic at taking in and emitting light, making them excellent semiconductors for solar energy conversion.

Utilizing perovskites for solar generation took off regarding 10 years earlier because the products can be a lot more reliable at converting sunlight to power than the crystalline silicon usually utilized in photovoltaic panels today. They are also light-weight as well as flexible, whereas crystalline silicon is so fragile it requires to be protected by inflexible glass, making most solar panels today about as huge as well as hefty as a patio area door.

Numerous researchers and also business owners have hurried to take advantage of those advantages, but Swift Solar has 2 core modern technologies that its founders see as their one-upmanship. First, they are utilizing 2 layers of perovskites in tandem to improve efficiency. "We're putting two perovskite solar batteries stacked on top of each other, each soaking up different parts of the spectrum," Hoerantner states. Second, Swift Solar uses an exclusive scalable deposition procedure to create its perovskite films, which drives down production prices.

" We're the only business concentrating on high-efficiency all-perovskite tandems. They're tough to make, yet our team believe that's where the market is ultimately going to go," Jean says.

" Our modern technologies enable more affordable as well as much more ubiquitous solar energy with cheaper production, decreased installment expenses, and even more power per unit area," claims Sam Stranks, founder and lead scientific expert for Swift Solar along with an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and also Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. "Other commercial solar photovoltaic or pv modern technologies can do one or the various other [giving either high power or lightweight and also adaptability], yet not both."

Bulović claims technology isn't the only factor he expects the company to make a positive impact on the power market. "The success of a start-up is launched by the high quality of the first technical suggestions, however is maintained by the quality of the team that constructs as well as expands the innovation," he says. "Swift Solar's team is phenomenal."

Undoubtedly, Swift Solar's six founders with each other have six PhDs, 4 Forbes 30 Under 30 fellowships, and also greater than 80,000 citations. Four of them-- Tomas Leijtens, Giles Eperon, Hoerantner, and Stranks-- made their doctorates at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, collaborating with among the pioneers of perovskite photovoltaics, Professor Henry Snaith. Stranks after that concerned MIT to deal with Bulović, that is likewise commonly identified as a leader in next-generation photovoltaics and an experienced entrepreneur. (Bulović is a co-inventor of a few of the licenses the business is certifying from MIT.).

Stranks satisfied Jean at MIT, where Hoerantner later finished a postdoc working at GridEdge Solar. And the 6th founder, Kevin Bush, finished his PhD at Stanford University, where Leijtens did a postdoc with Professor Michael McGehee, one more leading perovskite scientist as well as advisor to Swift. What inevitably drew them completely was the desire to attend to environment modification.

" We were all individually thinking of exactly how we could have an effect on climate modification using solar modern technology, as well as a start-up appeared like the only real direction that can have an influence at the range the climate demands," Jean claims. The team initially fulfilled in a Google Hangouts session covering 3 time zones in early 2016. Swift Solar was formally introduced in November 2017.

MITEI research study.

Interestingly, Jean states it was his deal with The Future of Solar Energy-- instead of his operate in the laboratory-- that most contributed to his role in the founding of Swift Solar. The research study group of more than 30 specialists, including Jean and Bulović, examined the possibility for expanding solar generating capacity to the multi-terawatt scale by mid-century. They identified that the main objective of U.S. solar plan need to be to develop the foundation for an enormous scale-up of solar generation over the next couple of decades.

" I serviced quantum dot and also organic solar cells for most of my PhD, but I likewise spent a lot of time checking out energy policy and also economics, speaking to business owners, as well as thinking about what it would require to be successful in tomorrow's solar market. That made me much less joined to a single technology," Jean says.

Jean's work on the research brought about a much cited magazine, "Pathways for Solar Photovoltaics" in Energy & Environmental Science (2015 ), and to his founding management function with GridEdge Solar. "Technical advancements and also insights acquired in this program assisted launch Swift Solar as a center for novel lightweight solar innovation," Bulović says.

Swift Solar has also taken advantage of MIT's entrepreneurial ecosystem, Jean states, keeping in mind that he took 15.366 (MIT Energy Ventures), a class on beginning startups, and got help from the Venture Mentoring Service. "There were a lot of experiences like that have truly educated where we're going as a firm," he states.

Stranks includes, "MIT offered a growing atmosphere for discovering commercialization ideas in alongside our technology advancement. Really couple of areas can integrate both so dynamically.".

Swift Solar elevated its very first seed round of financing in 2018 as well as relocated to the Bay Area of California last summer season after incubating for a year at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. The group is now functioning to create its production processes so that it can scale its innovation up from the lab to the market.

The founders claim their initial goal is to establish customized high-performance items for applications that need high performance and also lightweight, such as unmanned airborne automobiles and other mobile applications. "Wherever there is a need for solar power as well as lightweight panels that can be deployed in an adaptable means, our products will certainly discover an excellent usage," Hoerantner says.

Scaling up will require time, yet team members state the high risks connected with climate modification make all the effort worthwhile.

" My vision is that we will have the ability to grow promptly and efficiently to recognize our very first products within the following 2 years, and also to provide panels for rooftop and utility-scale solar applications in the longer term, helping the globe rapidly transform to an electrified, low-carbon future," Stranks says.

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