Solar Startup LivinGreen Looks to Power Even Rainy Cities

8/5/09

Rarely in Seattle is the power of the sun as remarked upon as in the past week, as temperatures soared into the triple digits. That’s some serious heat, especially for an area proverbial for its rainy, gray skies. Perhaps this makes it a good time to reflect on the fact that Seattle, despite what would seem to be discouraging weather most of the year (like today), hosts a surprising number of solar power startups. LivinGreen Materials is one of these—and one of the youngest—but its solar cell technology, using a variation on dye-sensitized solar cells, has already caught the attention of cleantech investors.

LivinGreen recently reached the semi-finals of the Pacific Northwest division of the Clean Tech Open, competing for a prize of up to a quarter million dollars in the national cleantech business plan contest, although the final results won’t be announced until November. Currently, the company is self-supported but hopes to raise money from angel investors and venture capitalists.

The dye-sensitized crystals (DSC) of LivinGreen are so-called third-generation technology—as opposed to the first-generation solar technology of silicon wafers and second-generation tech like earlier thin-film solar cells. LivinGreen’s solar cells are more efficient and cost-effective than previous technologies, according to LivinGreen CEO Chris Tagge. The dyed crystals are composed of a light-sensitive anode and an electrolyte, which generates electricity from light energy that hits the anode. Originally invented in Europe in the early 90s, there are now several different versions of the technology, which is usually made from very cheap materials like tin and titanium. While conventional silicon-based cells often require their own complex manufacturing process, DSCs can be produced in large amounts for comparatively little. “It’s by far the lowest cost solar technology out there,” Tagge said.

And the sheets of dye-sensitized photovoltaic material are considerably more durable than silicon crystals. So instead of needing to be protected from dust, rain, and other natural hazards, DSCs could actually be incorporated into building materials, and even used in low-light areas like the inside of an office, because the electrochemical reaction is so easily stimulated. It’s theoretically possible to make whole buildings into solar power generators someday, Tagge said.

The genesis of LivinGreen dates back to late 2008, when Tagge read a press release from the University of Washington about the work of professor Guozhong Cao and his research into … Next Page »

Eric Hal Schwartz was an intern in Xconomy's Seattle office. Follow @

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