Another design, which Natcore is developing together with Kodak, involves using the liquid deposition process to coat a network of carbon nanotubes with a solar semiconductor material to produce thin, flexible solar cells. Natcore says solar cells using this design could be about as efficient as conventional silicon solar cells, but cost roughly half as much to make, in large part because they could be made with the same equipment that Kodak has used to make photographic film. Because the solar cells would be light and flexible, they would also be easier to install, cutting installation costs in half, Natcore estimates.
Andrew Barron, the professor of chemistry and materials science at Rice University who developed the liquid deposition technology, says the carbon nanotube design is closer to commercialization than the quantum dot one. He says researchers have made small prototype solar cells—the remaining development work has to do with working out the details of manufacturing. The quantum dot solar cells are still at an early stage—the researchers have only so far used the liquid process to show that it’s possible to distribute the quantum dots as needed. They haven’t built solar cells yet.
Natcore has raised about $6 million through a public offering on a Canadian stock exchange. It has also signed joint venture agreements with companies in China and Italy. The company plans to license its technology to others, rather than manufacture solar cells itself. It is currently testing a prototype version of a commercial-scale liquid deposition machine, and Provini says the company has four solar cell manufacturers lined up to buy the commercial version of the machine, if the company meets certain technical milestones.