Tiny solar cells woven into a flexible, lightweight mesh could soon be powering everything from spacecraft and drones to buildings, devices and remote locations.
The textile-like photovoltaic lace, created by Albuquerque startup mPower Technology, is nearing market, thanks to a $2.5 million venture investment in October, and a $1.1 million small business research grant that the U.S. Army approved in December.
The private funding will boost company efforts to enter the aerospace industry, where its photovoltaics could offer a low-cost, robust alternative to the bulky, expensive solar panels used today on satellites and other space vehicles, said mPower President and CEO Kevin Hell. And the Army grant, awarded by the Combat Capabilities Development Command Center, will allow mPower to further develop and test its solar modules for portable power in remote locations, potentially opening military markets for the technology and commercial sales for outdoor applications.
The micro solar cells that the company weaves into flexible solar arrays were originally developed by Sandia National Laboratories’ Materials, Devices and Energy Technologies group using microdesign and microfabrication techniques. mPower took the cells, which are thinner than a human hair, and integrated them into lightweight, bendable sheets that it calls DragonSCALES.