Startup Saturday: Greening the freight shipping chain for solar

Diverging estimates of renewable energy installed


This week on Startup Saturday we have three companies making potentially disruptive innovations in solar and energy storage.

PVpallet rethinks solar shipping

PVpallet, which recently netted a $1 million investment from Iowa-based ISA Ventures, looks to inject another layer of environmental-consciousness into the solar supply chain with reusable, recyclable solar panel pallets made from discarded plastic.

The startup looks to address the “true cost” of a traditional wood shipping pallet, including build costs, labor, transportation and handling, PV module breakage rates, and disposal costs.

PVpallets are stackable up to four high, potentially reducing warehouse space.

Image: PVpallet

PVpallets are made of discarded, recyclable plastic. The company said its design can accommodate 80-90% of the modules currently on the market.

The pallets are reusable around 20 times, and at the end of their lifecycle, they can be repurposed into new PVpallets. The pallets are stackable four high, which the company said can reduce warehouse space.

The pallets reached full-scale prototype Q1 2021, and production is expected to begin in September. Full production is planned for Q1 2022.

Silver-free cells

Sydney, Australia’s SunDrive has rocked the status quo, developing a silver-free solar PV cell while also pushing the world record of silicon cell efficiency to 25.54%.

A SunDrive cell.

Image: SunDrive

Silver is a core component in today’s solar panels, and panel manufacturing accounts for around 20% of the world’s annual silver consumption.  Next-generation high-efficiency cells will require three times more silver than conventional panels.

SunDrive’s solution replaces the precious metal with copper, which is 100 times cheaper than silver, and abundant. 

The company said it will produce panels locally in Australia as it ramps up, and will first enter the residential solar space.

SunDrive has attracted industry support with AUD 3 million ($2.2 million) provided by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

A startup no more

Gravity-based energy storage tower maker Energy Vault is set to jump from wide-eyed startup to publicly traded company as Novus Capital Corp said it plans to acquire the company for more than $1 billion.

The combined company will be known as Energy Vault Holdings and is expected to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “GWHR.”

Energy Vault’s product, as described in this pv magazine article, is a six-arm crane tower that lifts and stacks composite blocks with a grid-scale renewable energy powered motor. The blocks store potential energy, and when energy is needed to be discharged, the blocks are lowered.

An electric motor lifts and stacks large blocks, storing potential energy.

Image: Energy Vault

The result is a high-capacity, resilient storage application with the ability to meet both short- and long-term storage needs. The tower boasts 80-85% round-trip efficiency and a 35-year technical life. It suffers little to no degradation, an issue experienced in batteries.

The company said it has several customer agreements in place, and revenues could start to gravitate to its bottom line in 2022.

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