A University of Louisville research-backed startup has secured $2 million in funding to further development of a technology meant to make solar power more accessible.
The startup, Bert Thin Films, plans to use the new funding — via a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and $1 million in angel investment — to further their copper-based paste technology, called CuBert, invented and patented at UofL. The paste can replace silver components currently used in solar panels, making them less expensive to manufacture.
“Silver is a huge issue for the industry because the price volatility and there may not be enough to produce the amount of solar panels needed,” said Thad Druffel, theme leader for solar manufacturing R&D at UofL’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research. “We can solve it by changing one simple ingredient.”
Druffel invented the technology with former post-doctoral research associate, Ruvini Dharmadasa, and now is CEO of Bert Thin Films.
According to Nerd Wallet, purchasing and installing a solar panel system can cost between $15,000 and $25,000, making them a big investment for people and companies wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. Druffel believes that by replacing silver components with CuBert paste, manufacturers can reduce their production costs significantly, which would reduce the cost to consumers.
With reduced costs, Druffel said, solar panels could become a more accessible and economical choice for consumers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, opting for renewable energy sources, like solar power, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
The company plans to use the new funding to further de-risk the technology for the manufacturers. The Department of Energy grant, received in late 2021, is part of a federal program meant to help integrate clean energy sources into the U.S. electrical grid.
The technology suite was patented through the UofL Office of Research and Innovation’s intellectual property and technology transfer arm, UofL Innovation and Commercialization. The university supports its startups through UofL New Ventures, which works to make connections between entrepreneurs, funders and UofL-born intellectual property.
“We love to see UofL startups succeed, and we’re very proud of Bert Thin Films for this recent funding,” said Will Metcalf, an associate vice president for research and innovation who leads UofL New Ventures. “The technology Bert Thin Films is commercializing has the potential to make a big impact in engineering a future economy driven by new energy materials and manufacturing processes.”