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UbiQD gets a boost from Wells Fargo, DOE energy lab

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Ubiquitous Quantum Dots, a Los Alamos startup, uses its low-cost quantum-dot manufacturing process as a coating on windows to capture sunlight and channel the photons to solar cells attached to window frames. (COURTESY OF UBIQD)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Quantum-dot coated windows could soon be generating electricity for some Wells Fargo buildings, thanks to a $250,000 grant for the Los Alamos-based startup Ubiquitous Quantum Dots.

Wells Fargo’s Innovation Incubator (IN2) selected UbiQD as one of five startups nationwide to participate in its program, which pays for up to $250,000 in technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. Once a program participant’s technology is sufficiently advanced, startups become eligible to test their innovations at Wells Fargo buildings, or at partner facilities.

“We believe we’ll be ready to deploy our technology in a pilot project with Wells Fargo next year,” said UbiQD CEO Hunter McDaniel.

The company has received about $5.7 million in grants and private investment since launching in 2014 with technology licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That includes about $1 million in new private investment UbiQD received this summer, McDaniel said.

The company has developed a low-cost, low-toxic process for making quantum-dots, which are tiny, three-dimensional structures that manipulate light in unique ways, absorbing it and emitting it back out in different colors. They’re used in everything from transistors and sunscreen to LCD televisions, tablets and smartphones.

UbiQD is applying the quantum dots as a window coating that captures sunlight and then channels the photons to photovoltaic cells on window frames. In contrast, other companies have applied PV cells directly to windows, which is a more complex and expensive process.

UbiQD’s quantum dot window-coating makes its solar-collecting technology a part of the window itself, offering a drop-in solution that could be much simpler and more affordable for users.

That’s what attracted the Wells Fargo incubator, said Ramsay Huntley, Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation Philanthropy Program officer.

“Other technologies have had difficulty scaling for commercial use because it’s too expensive and generally too invasive,” Huntley told the Journal. “This technology can be truly integrated into a building. That’s game-changing.”

Wells Fargo started its $30 million IN2 program in 2014 in collaboration with DOE’s renewable energy lab to accelerate development of emerging technologies that advance energy efficiency in commercial buildings. UbiQD is one of 25 companies nationally accepted into the program to date.

The energy lab previously tested the electric-generating efficiency of UbiQD’s technology through a $300,000 grant the DOE awarded in 2016. The new funding will now pay for reliability testing on UbiQD’s newest solar-window prototypes, McDaniel said.

“We’re scaling it up now from a 2-foot by 2-foot window coating to a 3-foot by 3-foot one,” McDaniel said. “We believe that’s the critical size needed for commercial use in windows.”

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