Nypro invests $1 million in solar startup

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Injection molder Nypro Inc. has invested $1 million in solar energy startup, Morgan Solar Inc., and will manufacture the light-guide solar optics (LSOs) for the Toronto company’s photovoltaic panels that are expected to be on the market sometime next year

It is the first investment made by New Ventures Group LLC, which Clinton, Mass.-based Nypro formed as a subsidiary 13 months ago to invest in innovative and green technologies.

Company spokesman Al Cotton said Oct. 14 that Nypro will do the molding, assembly and final testing of the LSOs for Morgan Solar’s concentrated solar photovoltaic panels, called the Sun Simba HCPV, which are designed for electric utilities.

Nyrpo said it was looking at a number of sites in North America for short-term manufacture and several global sites for production at a later point.

According to Morgan Solar, the panels will convert 26-30 percent of the sun’s energy into electricity, compared to the 20 percent conversion rate for mono- and multi-crystalline solar panels and 10 percent for thin-film solar panels. The panels will also be less expensive to manufacture than thin-film panels, currently the preference of utilities, and silicone-based solar panels, according to Solar.

“We don’t know if [the solar energy market] will be successful, but we think it has the potential to do so,” said Jim Buonomo, chief financial officer and chief strategic officer for Nypro, in an address to employees at the Nypro Sustainability Roundtable in Mebane earlier this month. He said the company’s investment amounts to a 4 percent stake in Morgan Solar, and that the company’s financial commitment to Morgan Solar is “our affirmation that it is going to work.”

Morgan Solar announced Oct. 8 that it had secured $4.7 million in financing, including Nypro’s stake. Other investors include Turnstone Capital Management LLC in New York, with a $1.2 million investment, and Inversiones Financieras Perseo LC, the venture initiative of Iberdrola Group, the largest electric utility in Spain, which invested $2.5 million.

Morgan Solar hopes to raise a total of $8.5 million so it can build a prototype plant in Toronto and move toward commercial production in 2010. The company, which was founded in 2007 by physics engineer John Paul Morgan, now the company’s chief technology officer, previously had raised $1.5 million in seed funding from the Canadian government and the province of Ontario.

Iberdrola is one of the five largest electrical utilities globally. Its Iberdrola Renovables SA subsidiary is a major investor in renewable energy — it operates 10,000 megawatts of clean energy production and has renewable energy projects underway with a capacity of 56,000 megawatts. The company has raised $2 billion to expand in North America, and it also has received $500 million in grants in the past month from the U.S. Department of Energy to support construction of wind and solar projects.

As far as Nypro’s part in the project, the investment is part of an effort to make the $1.2 billion global company the leader among plastic injection molders when it comes to sustainability.

“Today, at Nypro, we are beginning to enter new markets such as solar, clean technology and other mainstays of the sustainability movement through our New Venture Group,” Buonomo said. He said it is Nypro’s intent to find ideas it can “commercialize and use to provide for the needs of mankind, while continuing to build our business.”

Michael Fallon, vice president and general manager of New Ventures Group, said this solar technology fits into Nypro’s plans perfectly.

“Nypro is constantly looking for innovations that have the potential to dramatically change an industry [and which present] synergies with our core strengths in injection molding and contract manufacturing. We wanted to enter the solar energy market and we were looking for a next-generation technology,” he said in a prepared statement.

Morgan Solar’s low-cost, concentrated photovoltaic solar panel uses a proprietary new optical concentration system it developed that use light-guide solar optics. Its modules use a small amount of aluminum and acrylic optical material, some electronics, and tiny slivers of multi-junction photovoltaic cells.

By eliminating almost everything that isn’t concentrating light or converting it into electricity, the company claims to have developed a lightweight, easy-to-assemble system that can be built at a fraction of the cost of competing photovoltaic systems.

Solar said each square panel is comprised of a row of 5 mm thick LSO optics, coupled to photovoltaic cells, with the panels supported by a thin aluminum spine. The thinness of the LSO allows a staggered row design that enables passive cooling and provides superior wind load reductions, according to Solar.

Because the panels are designed to accept light at angles, it gives architects and builders the flexibility to put the panels in more places and in locations that they would not otherwise be able to place a solar panel. Most solar panels need to be placed flat, or have the entire panel placed on a lift to be tilted to collect the rays from the sun.

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