Solar Could Be the Ticket for UofA

By Jane Incao

The Razorback Reporter

The U.S. Department of Energy has granted Fayetteville-based company Picasolar a total of $3.3 million to develop a more efficient and sustainable prototype for building solar panels as part of their 2011 SunShot Initiative.

The SunShot Initiative, which launched in 2011, is the Department of Energy’s national effort to support solar energy adoption and make it more affordable for Americans. By funding research and development efforts through five categories of SunShot Awards, the goal is to make solar energy a cost-competitive form of electricity by 2020.

Picasolar is one of few companies to get a third round of support from the Department of Energy. Most recently, the company was awarded a $2 million SunShot Tier 2 Incubator Award, which aims to shorten the time it takes young companies to develop innovative concepts and make them commercially available.

Picasolar CEO Doug Hutchings, 33, is a UA graduate with a degree from the microelectronics and photonics program. He said he thinks that technology innovations in advanced energy – such as solar power – eventually will lead to decreasing the cost of electricity.

“Long term we would like to see solar manufacturing come to Arkansas,” Hutchings wrote in an email. “Currently we are focused on providing our technology at scale and getting it deployed in the industry. This could be a great first step in local manufacturing.”

Picasolar will produce 1,000 solar panels with their patent-pending Hydrogen Super Emitter (HSE) process. Each of the 100 solar cells that make up one solar panel is similar to a battery, Hutchings said, and the HSE process improves the top layer of the cell to make it faster and more effective.

Seth Shumate, co-founder and CTO of Picasolar when the business was getting off the ground, is the primary inventor of HSE technology, Hutchings wrote in an email. Although Shumate is not an employee of the company, “he is engaged remotely from time-to-time,” Hutchings wrote.

Shumate applied for a patent for HSE technology in 2015. The application is still in review by the United States Patent Office.

The five-employee company operates out of the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, which rents office and research lab spaces to small companies. The ARTP also provides Picasolar access to university-owned equipment and expertise.