ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Los Alamos-based startup Ubiquitous Quantum Dots got a $750,000 boost this week to further develop and begin deploying technology that enables windows to generate electricity.
The National Science Foundation awarded a phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant for UbiQD LLC to continue building quantum dot-tinted windows, which can harness sunlight to power everyday consumer products, and eventually entire buildings.
The NSF previously awarded a $225,000 phase I grant in 2016, allowing UbiQD to test and validate its technology at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.
Those studies showed photovoltaic efficiency for the quantum-dot windows, which captured about 50 percent of direct sunlight, or enough to generate about 30 watts of electricity per square meter, said UbiQD founder and President Hunter McDaniel.
It’s new technology, making comparisons difficult, but a traditional rooftop solar array capturing 100 percent of direct sunlight usually generates about 150 watts per square meter.
“With this new NSF funding, we’ll work to scale up our prototypes and our manufacturing process and begin deploying the technology in pilot projects,” McDaniel said.
To date, UbiQD has raised about $4 million in public and private funding. It employs 10 people in Los Alamos and plans to hire another five this year.
UbiQD’s technology is based on a low-cost, low-toxic, quantum-dot manufacturing process that Hunter helped develop at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Quantum dots are tiny, three-dimensional structures measuring about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. The structures manipulate light in unique ways, absorbing it and emitting it back out in different colors. They’re used for everything from transistors and sunscreen to LCD televisions, tablets and smartphones.
UbiQD’s process allows it to make the dots at much lower cost than traditional manufacturers. It uses them as an electric-generating coating on windows to channel photons to PV cells on the window frames.
For first-phase testing, the company produced small dot-tinted windows of 30-by-30 centimeters. With the new funding, UbiQD will scale up to full square-meter windows and work to upgrade its manufacturing process as a drop-in solution for window makers, McDaniel said.
“We want to integrate our quantum dot material with existing manufacturing processes,” he said. “It needs to be a really low-cost process to make it viable.”
UbiQD recently hired window industry veteran Jeffrey Granato as an advisory board member to help explore market potential and open industry doors.
“Quantum dot technology has the potential to be a game-changer by turning curtain walls into solar collectors without sacrificing optical quality,” Granato said.