Konarka Raises $23.8M, Inches Toward Commercialization

Over the past nine years, solar plastic maker Konarka has been creeping toward commercialization, raising close to $200 million in private equity and government grants. When will it teeter over that brink of pilot production and move into full-scale commercialization? Well, for now some more funding: According to SEC documents, this week Konarka raised yet another round of $23.8 million from investors including Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Good Energies and 3i.

By my rough calculations, the company has raised close to $175 million in private equity and $20 million in government grants. That puts it close to the $200 million mark, which only a few greentech companies have achieved, including smart grid network maker Silver Spring Networks and thin film solar firm Solyndra.

Konarka’s special sauce lies with its organic solar panels. The “Power Plastic” is able to absorb a much wider spectrum of light than other thin films, allowing for higher efficiencies and even indoor applications.

So with all that funding will Konarka, which spun out of the University of Massachusetts in 2001, be churning out its Power Plastic in significant volumes soon? Seems like it’s getting ever closer and starting to ship initial volumes, but, hey, we understand that the transition from pilot to commercial scale takes some time to ramp up. And if they’re manufacturing and shipping a lot of product, then they’re being very quiet about it.

Back in October 2008 Konarka officially “opened” its manufacturing plant in New Bedford, Mass., which was supposed to have a production capacity of 1 gigawatt per year. At the time the company said it planned to hire more than 100 additional employees as production increased toward capacity over the next 2-3 years, and that commercial production of its branded organic photovoltaic “Power Plastic” was supposed to start in the first quarter of 2009.

You might remember that October 2008 was also around the time of the big market crash, and all of 2009 proved economically difficult. In February 2009 Konarka raised just $5 million in financing for manufacturing and job creation in Massachusetts in the form of a long-term loan from the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust. And a Konarka spokesperson told us in Feburary 2009 that Konarka planned to start shipping its first products from the New Bedford plant around the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter of 2009.

All of 2009 I was waiting for some big announcements about commercial volumes from Konarka but over the year the company announced a variety of small first time shipments. For example, in April 2009 a company called SKYShades received its first shipment of Konarka’s solar power plastic.

We’ve reached out to Konarka and are waiting to hear back on how far along they are in production. Like we said, it’s a gradual process to ramp up volume manufacturing.