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  • Betty Coffman

UofL-based startup wins energy prize for ink to be used in solar cells

By Betty Coffman, UofL News

A University of Louisville student-led startup has won $200,000 in a prestigious U.S. Department of Energy competition focused on next-generation energy technologies and now will compete for an additional $500,000.

SoFab Inks LLC was founded by UofL graduate students Blake Martin, Peter Armstrong and Sashil Chapagain, who won DOE’s American-Made Perovskite Startup Prize for technology they helped develop along with UofL Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research investigators Thad Druffel and Craig Grapperhaus. SoFab Inks is one of only three companies currently moving on to the final stage of the competition.

SoFab Inks LLC, a startup consisting of University of Louisville graduate students and mentored by UofL faculty members, is a finalist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s American-Made Perovskite Startup Prize. From left, Craig Grapperhaus, professor of chemistry, graduate students Sashil Chapagain, Blake Martin and Peter Armstrong and Thad Druffel, research theme leader. Photo by Andrew Marsh.

Solar panels today are typically made of single-crystal silicon, which requires expensive processing using clean room environments. The American-Made Perovskite Startup Prize is designed to accelerate the use of perovskite crystalline semiconductor materials that can be produced using simpler known printing techniques, resulting in improved efficiency, durability and affordability.

The UofL technology improves these panels further by replacing other expensive photovoltaic materials with a liquified “ink.” This more cost-effective, high-performance liquid can be deposited as one of the conductive layers of a solar cell called charge transport layers that allow electrons to move and produce electricity. The UofL-held technology is patent-pending.

“The perovskite technology is a new entrant in the solar energy industry and has clear potential to radically reduce costs both due to low cost of materials and simple manufacturing,” Druffel said. “This prize reflects the potential of this technology and this team. They are well suited to continue to validate this technology and demonstrate substantial progress towards commercialization over the next year.”

The next step for SoFab Inks is to begin production and scale up capacity. In about a year, their progress in commercializing the product will be evaluated for the final prize award. The founders also plan to market their materials to LED and detector manufacturers.

“The mission of SoFab Inks is to accelerate the decarbonization of electrification by improving efficiency, scalability, stability and bankability of perovskite solar cells,” Martin said. “The $200,000 prize will allow us to scale our process up and begin selling to customers.”


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