Sandia Labs’ ‘solar glitter’ heads to market

By By Kevin Robinson-Avila/Journal Staff Writer/Albuquerque Journal

Tiny solar cells about the width of a human hair and sporting a “Made in New Mexico” stamp could soon power everything from satellites to consumer devices. Albuquerque-based startup mPower Technology Inc. has taken the minuscule solar cells, created by Sandia National Laboratories, and developed them into lightweight, flexible sheets that could help power up the next-generation of low-cost photovoltaics in everyday products and structures.
“We’ve packaged it into a condensed, thin, flexible format, almost like a bandanna, that a person could wrap up and throw in a backpack for use anywhere,” said mPower founder and CEO Murat Okandan. “It could be used in many applications, including satellites, or bent into curved shapes to attach to buildings.”
mPower signed a commercial license with Sandia on Jan. 23 to begin marketing the solarcell technology, dubbed “solar glitter,” in a broad range of markets. The company, which launched in 2015, is looking now at portable power applications and use in aerospace vehicles, such as drones. Eventually, the technology could be integrated into the solar systems that power homes and buildings.
“We’re getting a lot of early interest for applications in aerospace,” Okandan said. “But it’s deployable in many types of power applications, such as emergency response equipment or outdoor backpacking.”
Sandia’s Materials, Devices and Energy Technologies group developed the original solar glitter, using microdesign and microfabrication techniques to make the tiny solar cells. Murat, an electrical engineer at Sandia for 16 years, worked on that team.
He left the lab in May 2015 to commercialize the solar cells through Sandia’s Entrepreneurial Separation to Transfer Technology program. That gives him the option of returning to the lab for up to three years.
mPower signed a temporary option to license the technology in 2015 to further develop it before approaching commercial customers.
The company created lightweight, flexible sheets with the solar cells, called Dragon SCALEs, that can be integrated into things to power them. It’s flexible enough to be folded like paper.
That means it can be shaped and molded for use in many formats, almost like Legos, allowing faster, cheaper installation of solar systems. And it offers higher voltage, greater reliability and lower energy costs than standard silicon photovoltaics, Okandan said.
Equally important, Dragon SCALEs can be mass manufactured with standard semiconductor and solar-cell micro-scale fabrication tools and technologies, allowing the company to easily adapt and scale up production as needed, said Stuart Rose, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Albuquerque’s Bioscience Center who has invested in mPower.
“This technology can help solar energy become more cost competitive,” Rose said. “It could have a dramatic impact.”
The company, which has invested about $1 million to fully develop its Dragon SCALEs, is now ready to market the technology. That led to its new, full commercial license agreement with Sandia last month.

go to top