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Published: 7/13/2007

Solar energy firm gets $7M funding boost

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A fledgling solar energy company founded by a University of Toledo professor received $7 million in venture capital this week.

This first round of funding from a Swiss company, Emerald Technology Ventures, and NPG Energy Technology Partners of Washington means MWOE Solar Inc. of Toledo can complete a pilot production line to demonstrate its high-volume, low-cost method of making solar cells on a stainless-steel substrate no thicker than a sheet of paper.

The investment "places us in a strong position to develop and demonstrate a new manufacturing process that could drive down the cost" of solar cell manufacturing, said Xunming Deng, the UT physics professor who formed Midwest Optoelectronics in 2002. Midwest Optoelectronics LLC is now a shareholder in MWOE Solar Inc.

In the coming months, the company intends to increase its work force from 18 to 40.

Most would be highly skilled people trained in physics or engineering.

By 2008, the company will move into full production, Mr. Deng said.

In a few years, the company hopes to produce the equivalent of 100 megawatts of solar cells.

Last year, the worldwide market in solar cells was 1.7 gigawatts.

"We won't be one of the biggest, but it makes us a player," Mr. Deng said.

Solar cells produced by MWOE will be lightweight and flexible, with immediate application as electronic chargers and rooftop installation, he said.

"With it being lightweight and flexible, it requires less labor to install it, so therefore it has reduced installation costs," he said.

Prior to this venture funding, the company relied on about $3.5 million in combined grants.

The company is in a business incubator on the UT campus but expects to relocate soon to an undisclosed site.

"It was the combination of a proven technology, a sound low-cost product proposition, and a very capital-efficient production expansion which attracted us to MWOE Solar," Markus Moor of Emerald Technology Ventures said in a news release.

"Based on its proprietary technology, MWOE Solar is able to differentiate itself and its products in a market which is becoming more crowded and competitive. This is an important attribute for new solar companies entering this fast-growing, large market."

Mr. Moor becomes a member of the MWOE board as a part of the agreement.

"We were impressed by MWOE's technology - a company that can produce solar modules at grid-competitive prices which are targeted at the fastest-growing part of solar - grid-connected, building integrated PV systems - is a very attractive investment opportunity," Chris Sorrells said in a statement.

Mr. Sorrells is managing director at NGP Energy Technology Partners, and will become a part of the MWOE board. In addition, the opportunity to partner with Dr. Xunming Deng, a globally recognized authority in thin film silicon based photovoltaics, was another key reason for our investment," Mr. Sorrells said.

Contact Jenni Laidman

at jenni@theblade.com

or 419-724-6507.



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