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14 February 2008


Sunovia and EPIR win NASA contract for II-VI encapsulated PV cells

Sunovia Energy Technologies Inc of Sarasota, FL and EPIR Technologies Inc (EPIR) of Bolingbrook, IL have won a contract from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the development of high-efficiency, ultra-lightweight solar cells with thicknesses reduced more than ten-fold compared to those currently in use.

The cells will be used to power spacecraft and, in some cases, for propulsion in all NASA science missions, including the Comet Surface Sample Return (CSSR), Comet Nucleus Sample Return (CNSR), and Mars Sample Return (MASR) missions.

Sunovia is working to commercialize next-generation photovoltaic (PV) cells and encapsulates for markets including residential utility, commercial utility, general lighting, advertising, governmental and space.

EPIR was founded in 1998 by its president, Dr Siva Sivananthan, former director of the Microphysics Laboratory (MPL) of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The firm pioneered the development of II-VI IR materials for the US military and provides research support for the defense industry in mercury cadmium telluride (MCT, or HgCdTe) IR imaging technology, including single and multi-layered epitaxial structures grown on silicon and cadmium zinc telluride (CZT, or CdZnTe) wafers. EPIR has demonstrated concepts that are being developed as commercial products, including high-efficiency solar cells and modules for space and terrestrial applications, and high-sensitivity, real-time biochem sensors and decontamination systems for HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning) systems for the military, homeland security, and non-governmental installations such as in hospitals.

On 30 January, Sunovia and EPIR announced an exclusive partnership to pool their expertise in areas including II-VI materials, light detection, infrared imaging, systems integration, detector arrays and infrared (IR) sensors, for the developingment, supply and marketing of solar PV and semiconductor technologies.

The firms say that they are developing a unique solar PV technology with an energy conversion efficiency approaching 30% by incorporating encapsulates based on II-VI materials that eliminate the need for the glass encapsulates prevalent in current PV technology. The technology will build on EPIR’s expertise in the growth of II-VI materials on Si for IR detectors and cameras.

In addition, Sunovia and EPIR are working on a transparent and electrically conductive encapsulate that could eventually eliminate the requirement for contacts on the solar cell. System considerations, including weight and rigidity, make glass impractical and inefficient long term for solar encapsulation within the renewable energy market, say the firms.

EPIR and Sunovia also announced an initial contract for the development of the new solar technology with the US Air Force, which is interested in using it within its space programs. The Phase I proof of concept has been completed, and an invitation for Phase II has been received. This work should allow the partnership to accelerate the commercialization of Sunovia’s terrestrial solar products, it is reckoned.

The partnership has now also been strengthened by an agreement that provides each with 10% equity ownership in the other, including equal ownership of any developed intellectual property (patents, copyrights, unique processes, etc). Sunovia has also gained the exclusive marketing rights to any products (existing and future), including solar PV, infrared, biosensors, and LEDs.

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