Plextronics: Developing Inks that Convert Sunlight into Electricity


plexcorePVink Imagine being able to “print out” solar-photovoltaic cells on to just about any type of base—from electronic gadgets and textiles to walls, windows and roofs. While there are numerous hurdles—technological and financial—to negotiate, the ability to manufacture PV cells from the readily available hydrocarbon feedstock used to make plastics would ratchet down manufacturing costs—possibly as low as $1/watt—while making scaling up production capacity that much easier and profitable, industry insiders and analysts say.

It’s hard to imagine what combination of circumstances led to the discovery of inks that conduct and convert sunlight into electricity, but pioneering companies such as Pittsburgh-based Plextronics are hot on the “organic PV” and printed electronic circuitry R&D and commercialization trail.

Based on research and development of conductive polymers originally done by Richard McCullough and spun off as a commercial enterprise from Carnegie Mellon University in 2002, Plextronics’ subsequent work is attracting more and greater interest from established, mainstream plastics, electronics and solar-PV technology providers. Yesterday, Plextronics announced that Solvay North American Investments LLC—the venture capital arm of an international, Brussels-based chemical, plastics and pharmaceutical group–led a successful, $14 million round of “Series B-1” financing.

Raising Capital

Investing $12 million of the total $14 million raised in Plextronics’ latest round of financing makes Solvay Investments the company’s largest minority shareholder. A division of the Solvay Group, it’s the second time in three years Solvay Investments has invested in and raised capital for Plextronics.

The capital infusion will enable Plextronics to carry on R&D and pilot manufacturing of its two main product lines. “The funding from this round will enable us to continue to advance our lighting and solar products—namely our Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) and Organic Photovoltaic (OPV) materials and inks—so that we can scale these products to meet the customer and industry demand we are seeing,” Plextronics’ president and CEO Andy Hannah said in a news release.

Testing at NREL

Earlier this month, Plextronics announced the first outdoor test of its organic PV modules. Installed on the roof of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Outdoor Test Facility in Golden, Colorado, the performance of ten modules will be continuously monitored, analyzed and compared to those of other modules being tested at the facility.

Organic photovoltaics, light-emitting diodes and printed electronic circuitry are “greenfield” areas that Solvay, as a well-established international chemical and plastics company, is keen to explore further and participate in. “Solvay has identified organic electronics and sustainable energy as platforms for future growth based on radical innovation,” Léopold Demiddeleer, Solvay’s General Manager of Future Businesses Competence Center, stated.

“The group believes that the new materials and technologies, which it is currently developing through its own R&D efforts and a number of partnerships with technological leaders, convey potential solutions to some of our contemporary societies’ most acute issues, such as the cost-effective implementation of renewable energy sources and energy-efficient devices. With its cutting edge technology, Plextronics is a perfect partner for one of Solvay’s most promising innovation platforms.”

For more on Plextronics and organic PV, check out 3P’s previous reporting:

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

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