UNL technology powers Nebraska solar panel startup
Released on 06/24/2011, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
NUtech Ventures at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Rare Earth Solar, a new Nebraska company, have announced an exclusive license agreement expected to lead to the development of breakthrough solar panel technology made with rare earth elements. Rare Earth Solar will be the first solar panel manufacturer in Nebraska.
Chin Li "Barry" Cheung, assistant professor of chemistry at UNL, and his then-doctoral student Joseph Brewer developed the patent-pending technology, which replaces the typical semiconductor materials now used in solar cell manufacture with rare earth elements.
Despite their name, rare earth elements, used to make many high-tech goods, are more readily available and less expensive than competing commercial materials.
"Our technology will be competitive with current solar options," said Brewer, founder and chief technology officer of Rare Earth Solar. "We expect our research and development efforts to result in commercial solar panels that will produce electricity near the efficiency level of current solar panel technology."
Allen Kruse, Rare Earth Solar's co-founder and CEO, said the company's unique process utilizing rare earth elements is inexpensive and will produce panels that are more durable and cost-effective than the majority of thin film panels currently available on the market. "Our proprietary manufacturing method will utilize turnkey equipment along with material that no one else in the industry is using," Kruse said. "We feel that will give us an edge on market entry and scaling our business. With economy of scale and continued efficiency gains on solar panels, Rare Earth Solar will be a serious player in the green energy industry in the very near future."
"Matching entrepreneurs such as Allen with innovative UNL technologies that are developed by tomorrow's scientists like Joseph is key to producing companies that can create high-wage jobs and grow Nebraska's economy," said David Conrad, executive director of NUtech Ventures, the organization responsible for building partnerships between the University of Nebraska and the private sector. "It's a model we hope we can replicate over and over by developing long-term relationships with the business and investor communities."
"Partnerships like this confirm that there are great opportunities for us to leverage our research in order to create economic growth for Nebraska," UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said.
"I am very pleased to learn that Rare Earth Solar has completed their technology licensing agreement with NUtech Ventures," said Richard Baier, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. "This partnership agreement helps to showcase cutting edge renewable energy technology developed by leading researchers at the University of Nebraska. Even more exciting is the opportunity for Rare Earth Solar to leverage this technology into new job opportunities in Nebraska."
Kruse said he and Brewer, both from the Midwest, are excited to be headquartered in Nebraska, where they plan to begin manufacturing in the near future. Rare Earth Solar is securing a manufacturing site in Beatrice.
"The potential to have a positive effect on the regional and state economy as well as supporting the diversity of manufacturing in Nebraska and the Midwest is important to us and to our company," Kruse said.
Rare Earth Solar is a Nebraska-based startup developing low-cost, thin film solar panels utilizing rare earth elements. The company's patent-pending technology will enable mass production of solar panels at a low price that will make clean, affordable energy more accessible for consumers across the globe. Rare Earth Solar will be the first solar manufacturer to produce its products using exclusively American resources and labor. Visit www.rareearthsolar.com for more information.
NUtech Ventures is a nonprofit organization established in Lincoln, Neb., to form innovative partnerships between University of Nebraska researchers and the private sector. As R&D matchmakers, NUtech connects innovators with the people and resources they need to start companies, develop products, and create jobs. For additional information, visit www.NUtechVentures.org.
WRITER: Jill Thayer