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Update: Sol Voltaics Adds Backers for Solar Panel Nanowire Tech

Sol Voltaics, the Swedish startup that aims to apply nanowire materials to solar modules to dramatically hike their efficiency, has secured another $9.4 million in its current equity round, bringing the total to $15.6 million. This officially accomplishes funding goals for 2013 funding, and is enough to carry it to pilot production, according to the company.

This latest round was led by Norwegian investment company Umoe which had earlier invested at "an incubation level," according to the company; it’s now one of the majority shareholder alongside Industrifonden, Nano Future Invest, and Foundation Asset Management. Also making a smaller private investment in this latest funding was Kent Janér, CEO of hedge fund Nektar Asset Management. New Sol Voltaics board members include Umoe's Thomas Moe Borsteth, and an independent director: Kang Sun, former CEO of JA Solar and current CEO of Amprius.

A quick refresher: back in April the company unveiled its gallium-arsenide nanowire ink mix that promises to make solar panels up to 25 percent more efficient and more cost-effective. The end result: a tiny bit of the ink (1 gram covers an entire panel) can transform a 17 percent efficient module costing $0.60/W into a 22 percent efficient module at $0.75/W, which in the field turns a 100 MW installation into a 125 MW installation.

The company initially raised $11 million from a collection of private and public investors, and this summer added another $6.2 million (41 million Swedish kroner) from the Swedish Energy Agency. Sol Voltaics CEO Dave Epstein likened that to a DoE grant; it's a conditional, but nonrecourse loan that is "very inexpensive to us and doesn't have to be paid back until after we're making money."

Also on board as an investor is Erik Sauar, former CTO of REC. "He's the guy who's going to help us get into a production environment," Epstein said. "He understands what is needed from the module manufacturing side." (Alf Bjorseth, founder and former CEO of REC, already is a Sol Voltaics investor.)

The company had expected to pull in another $10-15 million in equity investment, mostly venture capital or private equity, by the end of this year, enough to carry to a working pilot line and pilot production. Epstein cited interest from four commercial companies in various parts of the value chain, from equipment manufacturers to panel makers to a downstream builder of power plants. Such participation wouldn't necessarily be simply writing a check, he noted; there are other ways to support a technology development investment, such as helping to build out a manufacturing line. From there the company will need "probably another $20-30 million to build up a full production line," which it expects to raise in 2015, he added.

Noting a recent smattering of updates from startups pursuing various ways to vastly reduce the amount of silicon used (Solexel, Crystal Solar, Scifinity), Epstein acknowledged discussions with some of them about potential partnerships. From Sol Voltaics' standpoint, the technologies are "perfectly compatible" since a silicon base is a silicon base no matter the thickness, and the nanowire ink would be applied at the final laminating step. He did note that the thinness of these kerfless silicon wafers makes them flexible; "by our nature our nanowires make a flexible film," which has interesting possibilities — such as a flexible module with over 20 percent efficiency, which "is unheard of right now," he said. But he quickly added that such kerfless methods still have to prove that they can compete cost-wise with regular silicon.

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