DuPont buys solar ink maker Innovalight

DuPont announced on Monday that it has bought Innovalight, a Silicon Valley startup that makes silicon ink that solar-cell makers can use to improve the amount of electricity that the cells can squeeze out of sunlight. DuPont declined to disclose the purchase price.

By buying Innovalight, DuPont not only added a new material offering to its lineup, it also snagged customers that have licensed Innovalight’s technology. The silicon ink developer has signed up some of the biggest solar-cell makers in the world, including Yingli Green Energy, JA Solar and Motech. Innovalight works with its customers to figure out how to incorporate silicon ink into their production lines, and it sells the ink as well.

A few years ago Innovalight decided to change its business model and has now demonstrated that to be a wise decision. Innovalight once wanted to become solar-cell maker.

Founded in 2002, the company decided to forgo that ambition when the financial market crashed and demand for solar goods dived in late 2008 and first half of 2009. Startup companies were having a hard time lining up money to continue their product development and move into production. Innovalight’s CEO, Conrad Burke, told me at the time that Innovalight needed to steer away from the manufacturing business because it required too much capital.

Since then, the company has to seemed to have found success with the licensing model (and also selling the silicon ink). The U.S. Department of Energy has funded Innovalight’s research and development, including $3 million in 2009 and another $3.4 million earlier this year.

Innovalight targets silicon solar-cell makers who want to boost their solar cells’ efficiencies quickly without only relying on internal technology development that typically requires millions of dollars and years of development time. The rapid decline of the price of solar cells, which are assembled into panels, has prompted solar-cell makers to figure out ways to better compete not just in price but also performance in the last three years. Most of the solar panels sold today are made with silicon.

The prestigious R&D Magazine put Innovalight’s silicon ink technology, which was developed with the help of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, on its annual top 100 list of innovations this year.

DuPont already is a big player in the solar market. It makes the films that protect solar cells from moisture and other environmental damage. The company said the solar market brought it over $1 billion in revenue last year.

Image courtesy of Innovalight

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