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Natcore Technology Inc. (TSXV:NXT) is an advanced research and development solar cell technology company focused on revolutionizing the solar industry through increased efficiency and reduced costs. Natcore’s R&D Center, located in Rochester, NY, features a state-of the-art Class 10,000 clean room facility. The company owns a strong and growing IP patent portfolio which includes 25 granted patents and 35 pending patents. Natcore has exclusive licenses and/or joint agreements with Rice University, the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the University of Virginia.
Natcore’s success comes from the perfect blend of science and business expertise. The company is managed by a team of highly experienced solar business and finance professionals; its successful R&D advancements are the work of a team of scientists representing a veritable “Who’s Who” of the solar technology industry.
Natcore’s two primary technologies, all-back-contact HIT cells and black silicon cells, are commercial-ready. The company plans to accrue revenues from its technologies via licensing agreements, royalties and material sales agreements with solar cell manufacturers and equipment managers. “Everything we have done is commercially viable and not merely a science project in a laboratory or university environment,” stated Chuck Provini, Natcore president and CEO. Natcore expects to begin licensing its all-back-contact HIT cell technology in 2016.
- Natcore aims to make solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels by significantly increasing efficiency (power output) and lowering manufacturing costs.
- First silver-free, high-efficiency solar cell technology, ready for market in 2016.
- Business model based on licensing royalty and materials agreements allows for quick ramp-up to significant revenues with no capital expenses.
- Exclusive licenses and/or joint agreements with Rice University, the NREL and the University of Virginia.
- Natcore’s scientific team stacked with some of the world’s top experts and authorities in photovoltaics (PV):
- David Levy (former senior research scientist at Eastman Kodak)
- Charlie Gay (former director of NREL, dubbed “Mr. Solar”)
- Dennis Flood (former chief of Photovolatic and Space Environments Branch, NASA)
- David Carlson (former chief scientist for BP Solar and inventor of the amorphous silicon solar cell)
- Has raised more than $18 million to advance its technologies since 2009.
- Natcore’s new cells will likely offer cost/watt improvements of well over 30 percent.
- Ultra-high efficiency, targeting more than 20 percent output.
- Strong and growing IP position with 25 granted patents and 35 pending.
Market Perspective: Keys to Solar’s Success
The solar energy industry is growing quickly with global PV market demand set to increase by 30 percent in 2015. According to industry research firm IHS, between 2014 and 2019 PV installations will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5 percent.
However, without government subsidies solar isn’t cost-competitive with fossil fuels. The solution is two-fold: increase efficiency (power output) and reduce costs. Natcore’s patented all-back-contact HIT and black silicon solar cell technologies provide both of these solutions.
Natcore’s scientists are currently working to demonstrate that the company’s solar cell technology can achieve efficiencies of 20 percent or higher. Pilot demonstrations and third-party verifications are expected in early 2016.
“Now that many government subsidies have been eliminated, solar cells with 17 percent efficiency are not economical,” said Provini. “We believe that if we can achieve efficiencies in the low 20s we can then bring this technology to market and gain the interest of an industry partner because the industry needs higher efficiencies to be cost-competitive.”
All-Back-Contact HIT Solar Cells
Heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer (HIT) cells are the world’s most advanced silicon solar cells, achieving efficiencies as high as 25.6 percent. However, HIT cells are also costly to manufacture—they cost nearly 50 percent more than less efficient cells—making them impractical for an industry already concerned with reigning in costs.
“Basic HIT-structure cell technology is a couple of decades old,” stated Provini. “But our HIT-structure cell is not your father’s HIT cell. We’ve made a device that has all of the positive aspects of a HIT cell, but also with our laser technology that will allow us to significantly streamline production. Our high-efficiency cells will have a much lower manufacturing cost than the cells made using the older technology.”
Natcore’s solar science experts have devised a simple process for producing HIT cells that reduces the cost to near that of today’s more common, low efficiency cells. By using laser technology, the company has removed two significantly expensive steps from the manufacturing process.
Natcore first demonstrated its proprietary laser process in October 2014, marking one of the first demonstrations of a low-temperature, laser-processed solar cell by anyone. The process is uniquely suited to large-scale manufacturing, especially for high-performance all-back-contact cells. In January 2015, the company made the first all-back-contact solar cells using low-temperature laser processing. As the name suggests, this laser-doped solar cell has all of its electrical contacts on the back of the cell. By placing the contacts on the back, Natcore has increased the surface area of the solar cells by some four to six percent, which increases efficiency by allowing for more light absorption.
In March 2015, Natcore took its technology further to produce the first laser processed back contact HIT-structure solar cell. Moreover, they used their lasers to create an entirely new structure — one that allowed them to further reduce manufacturing costs by completely eliminating high-cost silver from the cell, replacing it with low-cost aluminum.
“By using aluminum instead of silver we’ve taken out roughly 50 percent of the metallization cost of making a solar cell,” explained Provini. “So this process creates high efficiencies while at the same time cutting costs dramatically.”
Natcore is now working to take its silver-free, all-back-contact HIT solar cell further by increasing efficiencies to more than 20 percent. “I think we will be in a position to achieve these efficiencies with third party verifications in the next three to six months,” said Provini. The company anticipates it will begin seeing revenue for its advanced HIT cell technology in 2016.
Black Silicon Technology
The lower a cell’s solar reflectance, the more solar energy it can absorb, which is key to increased energy efficiency. Natcore has an exclusive patent license from NREL to develop and commercialize black silicon products based on NREL patents—including solar panels. In 2010, R&D Magazine recognized black silicon technology as one of the top 100 technological innovations of the year.
The silicon wafer achieves its “black” color because it has been etched with nano-scale pores; a process which takes in a liquid solution at room temperature; the black color is not a color at all but results from the absence of reflected light from the porous wafer surface. The biggest roadblock to translating increased light absorption into increased power output is an area of exposed silicon on the sidewalls of the pores and on the small mesas on the top surface of the solar cell. These areas trap the electric charges as they migrate toward the contacts, robbing the cell of its output potential.
In 2010, Natcore scientists successfully showed that the company’s patented liquid phase deposition (LPD) process could passivate black silicon to reduce these defects and enable the production of long-term, high-performance black silicon solar cells. In October 2012, Natcore scientists created the world’s first black silicon solar cell using processes amenable to low-cost mass production.
Natcore’s “Absolute Black” silicon wafers, with the “blackest” silicon solar cell surface ever recorded, have near-zero reflectivity—meaning that nearly 100 percent of the light that reaches the cells is available for conversion to electricity. Natcore’s ability to passivate black silicon cells using their LPD technology was “the missing piece,” explained Dr. Dennis Flood, Natcore’s chief technology officer. “It’s what will enable black silicon to reach its potential.”
In addition to increasing efficiency, the LPD process is cost-reductive. It employs a simple treatment that eliminates expensive processing steps, reduces chemical waste, eliminates the need for highly-toxic silane gas, slashes energy costs, and allows for a faster processing time. That translates to a lower cost than what is possible with the current solar cell manufacturing technology. Before Natcore’s passivation technology, it was necessary to put coated cells into a 1,000 degree Celsius furnace to create a thermal oxide. Natcore’s LPD silica coating achieves passivation without requiring an extra thermal process.
“By combining NREL’s black silicon process with our LPD technology we have effectively eliminated two steps in the manufacturing process—the texturizing step and the anti-reflective coating step,” said Provini. “We did it in one-step, saving about 20 percent of the cost of manufacturing the cell.”
The Ultimate Solar Cell
Natcore is a company of forward-thinkers and its ultimate goal is to develop a solar cell that combines both its black silicon and all-back-contact HIT technologies. The end result has the potential to be the lowest cost, highest efficiency and most environmentally friendly solar cell on the market.
Revenue Strategy: Licensing, Royalties, Material Sales
“We don’t manufacture solar cells, we own the technology to make them efficient AND cost-competitive,” stated Provini. “When you own the technology, you own the industry.”
Natcore’s team of scientists has crafted a truly unique process with the potential to position the company as a solar technology leader. The company plans to generate revenue through licensing agreements, royalties and material sales.
Licensing agreements with solar manufacturers will help Natcore generate revenue from a one-time fee for the right to use its silver-free, all-back-contact HIT and black silicon cell technology. Natcore also plans to offer such agreements to equipment managers looking to modify or create new equipment to enable manufacturers to use and integrate these two technologies.
Natcore’s business model also includes revenues from royalties, which will be calculated according to the benefit received by the manufacturer in using the company’s technology. In the case of the all-back-contact HIT cell technology—which generates higher efficiencies than traditional cells —Natcore would receive a percentage of that efficiency gain. In the case of black silicon cell technology—which is a cost-reduction technology—Natcore would receive a percentage of the cost saving.
For both cases, Natcore anticipates that royalties will amount to somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent of the benefit for each cell that is made. Natcore also plans to earn royalties on each piece of equipment based on its technology sold by equipment manufacturers to cell and module facilities.
Material Sales Agreements
The third revenue source in Natcore’s business plan is material sales based on the aluminum material necessary in the manufacturing of the all-back-contact HIT cell and the liquid catalyst necessary in the black silicon process. Both the aluminum material and liquid catalyst must be made to Natcore’s specifications. The company anticipates material sales of both will generate a significant residual income stream while at the same time representing only a very small additional cost to cell manufacturers.
Natcore anticipates that these licensing, royalty and material sales agreements will yield potentially significant revenue flows. For example, the net present value of an agreement with a typical solar cell producer would project to approximately five times Natcore’s current market cap.
Charles Provini—President, CEO & Director
Mr. Provini holds an Engineering degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and a Masters from the University of Oklahoma. He was the President of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management and a Director of Ladenburg Thalmann, Inc., one of the oldest members of the New York Stock Exchange, and has served as President of Laidlaw Asset Management as well as Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Howe & Rusling, Laidlaw’s Portfolio Management Advisory Group. Prior to this, he served as President of Rodman & Renshaw’s Advisory Services and President of LaSalle Street Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. He is a frequent speaker at financial seminars and has appeared on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer,” and “Fox and Friends,” discussing financial markets and, more recently, the solar industry.
Brien Lundin—Chairman & Director
A co-founder of Natcore, Mr. Lundin is an executive, marketer and investor with experience in financing and advising early-stage technology and natural resource enterprises. As the president and CEO of Jefferson Financial, Inc., he is the publisher and editor of several investment publications specializing in technology and resources, including Gold Newsletter, and is the owner and operator of the New Orleans Investment Conference. Mr. Lundin holds a Bachelor of Science from Louisiana State University.
Jill C. Finder—Senior Vice President/Business Development
Finder earned a BA in psychology at Emory University in 1982. In 1988, she earned a JD degree from the Nova Southeastern University School of Law, Davie, FL. Before attending law school, she earned Series 7 and 63 licenses and worked as an account executive at Paine Webber and Advest. While working toward her JD degree, she clerked at two law firms in the Fort Lauderdale area and served an internship at the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission in Miami. She is a native of Hollywood, FL.
She spent 18 years at the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, a self-regulatory organization created by Congress to oversee the municipal securities market, where she served as Associate General Counsel. And she was a Staff Attorney for the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission in Washington, DC.
Most recently she has been Corporate Counsel and Director of Organizational Resources for the Signature Real Estate Companies, an independently owned Florida firm. Earlier she had been General Counsel for The Gold Group, a boutique legal consulting and research firm that advises investment banks and hedge funds on antitrust and other regulatory issues that arise in mergers and acquisitions.
A co-founder of Natcore, Mr. Calhoun serves as Managing Director of Fort Hill Resources LLC, a private investment company; Director and organizer of FNBC Bank, the largest de novo bank in the history of Louisiana (NASDAQ Ticker: “NBCB”); Managing Director of Shadows Bend Court and Oak Grove Senior Living, long-term care facilities. He has experience in start-up and early stage corporate development financing.
Mr. Meekison is a founder and Chief Financial Officer of Vancouver-based iCo Therapeutics Inc. (“iCo”), a biopharmaceutical company developing clinical stage drugs for ophthalmic (eye) diseases. In his capacity as Chief Financial Officer, he manages all accounting, finance, risk management, investor relations and human resource activities for iCo. He also works closely with the rest of the iCo’s executive team in business strategy, license renegotiations, and merger and acquisitions activities.
Mr. Meekison is a veteran investment banker with a specialization in both the life sciences and technology sectors at Haywood Securities Inc., Diouhy Merchant Group Inc., and Pacific International Securities Inc. (now PI Financial Corp.). As a financier, Mr. Meekison raised equity capital for various biotechnology and technology companies in both Canada and the United States. He has also acted as the Chief Financial Officer for a TSX-listed company developing a novel clinical diagnostic platform, where he supervised all public reporting, accounting, and finance functions. Mr. Meekison received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia and is a certified Investment Manager and Professional Logistician.
Dr. Dennis J. Flood—Chief Technology Officer
Dr. Flood is a Natcore co-founder. He has more than 30 years’ experience in developing solar cell and array technology for both space and terrestrial applications. At the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, he served for 15 years as Chief of the Photovoltaic and Space Environments Branch and led programs in advanced photovoltaic systems development. He received two Agency awards for his pioneering work on advanced solar cells for space applications and for research that established the feasibility of powering a human outpost on the surface of Mars with solar energy. He served as Chair of the IEEE Electron Device Society’s Photovoltaic Device Technical Committee, served as a member of the Society’s Education Committee, and participated in its Distinguished Lecturer Series. He presently serves on the International Advisory Committees of the European, the U.S, the Japan/Asia and the World Photovoltaic Conference organizing committees. He is an inventor or co-inventor on several patents or patent applications in photovoltaics and nanotechnology and has more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and presentations in solar energy, electron devices and materials science.
Professor Andrew Barron—Consultant
Dr. Barron is a co-founder of and technical consultant to Natcore. Currently the Charles W. Duncan, Jr.-Welch Chair of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science at Rice University, as well as a visiting Professor at the University of Wales. Dr. Barron is the author of numerous publications in the area of materials preparation via chemical pathways and more than 350 peer-reviewed scientific papers, with nearly 100 focusing on developments in nanotechnology.. Before joining the Rice faculty in 1995, Dr. Barron received his undergraduate and doctorate degrees in chemistry from the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, performed postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin, and served on the faculty at Harvard University. He was the inaugural recipient of the prestigious Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research from the Welch foundation and is the first Prince of Wales Visiting Innovator.
Dr. David Levy—Director of Research & Technology
Dr. Levy earned his BSE in Chemical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and his PhD in Chemical Engineering, with a minor in Electrical Engineering, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He invented the atmospheric Spatial Atomic Layer Deposition process (SALD) while he was a Senior Research Scientist at Eastman Kodak, where he spent 20 years. With primary applications in the semiconductor industry, SALD is now a recognized area of research in the atomic layer deposition community. While working with air-free synthesis of nanoparticles, Dr. Levy also gained familiarity with quantum dot systems. The ability to create a three dimensional matrix of quantum dots is a critical step toward the formation of a fully functioning tandem cell, a principal goal of Natcore scientists. Dr. Levy has been granted 90 patents and has authored 11 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Dr. David Carlson—Science Advisory Board
Dr. Carlson is a physicist with a worldwide reputation in photovoltaics and materials science. Until his recent retirement, he was the chief scientist of BP Solar, for whom he managed future technology programs and the intellectual property system. In 1974, Dr. Carlson invented the amorphous silicon solar cell at RCA Laboratories, and was the first to demonstrate that hydrogenated amorphous silicon could be doped either p- or n-type and could be used to form a semiconductor junction. He has been Group Head, Photovoltaic Device Research, at RCA Labs; and Vice President and Director of Research of the Thin Film Division of Solarex Corp. Dr. Carlson is a fellow of the IEEE and has been a member of the American Physical Society, the American Vacuum Society, and Sigma Xi. He has published more than 150 technical papers, has been issued 26 U.S. patents, and has 8 patents pending. Dr. Carlson received a B.S. in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a PhD in Physics from Rutgers University.
Dr. Gavin Conibeer—Science Advisory Board
Dr. Conibeer is an internationally-known professor at the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. He leads projects funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Australian Research Council of over $6M. He has been a partner in the European Union-funded LIMA and SOLAMON projects. His research interests encompass third generation and advanced photovoltaic concepts, including silicon quantum dot-based tandem solar cells; hot carrier solar cells; up-conversion and photoelectrochemical cells. Dr. Conibeer earned a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering at Queen Mary College, London University. He received an M.S. in Polymer Science and Processing Technology at the London School of Polymer Technology, and a PhD at the University of Southampton. He has edited two books and authored eight book chapters, 129 journal papers, and 167 conference papers (inc. 41 refereed). He has received two patents.
Dr. Charlie Gay—Science Advisory Board
Dr. Gay is the former Director of the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and president/CEO of Siemens Solar Industries. He has 41 years of professional management, manufacturing and advanced technology experience in renewable energy and photovoltaics. He created the Greenstar Foundation, which delivers solar power and Internet access for health, education and microenterprise projects to villages in developing countries. Dr. Gay has been president and chief operating officer of ASE Americas; chairman of the technical advisory board at SunPower Corporation; president of Applied Solar and chairman of the Applied Solar Council at Applied Materials, Inc; and president of ARCO Solar.
Charlie Gay received a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Riverside, and a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the same institution. He holds numerous patents for solar cell and module construction and is a winner of the Gold Medal for Achievement from the World Renewable Energy Congress. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering for his seminal leadership contributions to the development of the global solar PV industry.
Dr. Daniele Margadonna—Science Advisory Board
Dr. Margadonna was Chief Technology Officer of MX Group SpA in Villasanta, near Milan, Italy. MX Holding was the holding company of an Italian group with international exposure in the solar photovoltaic industry. Dr. Margadonna has extensive experience in the planning and construction of turnkey photovoltaic plants. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Chemistry at University of Rome, where he also completed doctorate and postgraduate studies in Radiochemistry. Following R&D positions at the Italian National Research Council, ENI Groupe, and Eurosolare, he established E.T.AE, a consulting company focused on photovoltaic technologies. At E.T.AE, he fulfilled consultancy contracts for companies in Italy, Namibia, Norway, India, Switzerland, and Sweden. One of the most renowned solar scientists in Europe, Dr. Margadonna has received the Philip Morris Prize for Scientific and Technological Innovation. He is author or co-author of more than 40 scientific publications and six patents in the PV sector.