Konarka Technologies Inc. is reopening a former Polaroid factory in New Bedford, Mass., for large-scale production of its patented thin-film solar material.
``This facility has state-of-the-art printing capabilities that are ready for full operation, with the future potential to produce over a gigawatt of flexible plastic solar modules per year,'' Konarka's co-founder and chairman, Howard Berke, said in a news release.
The Lowell, Mass.-based company is working to commercialize its trademarked Power Plastics, a material that converts light to energy. The process started with the work of the late Sukant Tripathy, a polymer materials scientist and provost at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and founder of the Plastics Innovation Center; and Alan Heeger, Konarka's chief scientist, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2000. Discoveries by both men led to Konarka's underlying technology, which allows the use of plastic substrate films at relatively low temperatures.
The initial applications include portable electric appliances, sensors and labels, and outdoor structures like awnings, tents and umbrellas, said spokeswoman Tracy Wemett. The material is attached to a flexible material and can be used to transfer electricity to batteries, to power objects such as cell phones. She said companies are still testing, but expect to find many more uses.
Konarka, which has more than 300 patents, is opening the 250,000-square-foot New Bedford facility after hiring workers that had been employed by Multilayer Coating Technologies, the building's last tenant. The plant now employs nearly 20, with plans for hiring more than 100 workers within two to three years.
Wemett said the company hopes to be in full production by first-quarter 2009.
The company said it has secured more than $100 million from venture capital and private equity funds, as well as $18 million in government agency research grants from the U.S. and Europe.
Konarka worked with various state and local agencies to find the right site. The City of New Bedford helped it garner tax advantages from the Massachusetts Economic Development Incentive Program.