Eco Investor June 2015

Pre-Revenue Securities

Technology and Commercialization Changes at Dyesol

Dyesol has come a long way since its IPO featured in Eco Investor's first issue in 2005. The big changes have been in the development of its technology and its path to commercialization, both of which have changed considerably, particularly in recent times.

The company began as a developer and commercializer of dye solar cell (DSC) pastes that mimic chlorophyll, but with continual research and development the focus has moved to exploiting solid-state DSC, which are also called Perovskite Solar Cells (PSC).

This is a type of nanotechnology that uses a perovskite light absorber, titanium oxide and an organic semiconductor to generate electricity. Managing director, Richard Caldwell, says the materials are non-toxic and low cost and form an ultra-thin layer that is one tenth the thickness of second generation thin film solar technology.

Recent research headed by professor Michael Grätzel, the discoverer of dye solar cell technology, demonstrated the outdoor durability of perovskite solar cells in real-world conditions. Tests achieved 1,000 hours of stability under light soaking and more than 2,000 hours under temperatures of 80º – 85ºC. The cell architecture used matches one of the systems Dyesol is developing for commercialization evaluation, and the company said no competitive perovskite technology has demonstrated such promising results for stability.

The other big improvement has been in the efficiency of the technology. Since mid 2012 the experimental efficiency of perovskite solar cells has jumped from 5 per cent to 20 per cent. In 1998 it was barely above zero. In comparison, improvement in the efficiency of dye solar cells has been slow; it was around 7 per cent in the 1990s and is currently around 13 per cent. With 18 PhDs working for Dyesol, the efficiency improvement is on a steep trajectory.

Mr Caldwell said the efficiency of PSC or ssDSC has caught up with and surpassed liquid/ solvent-based systems and is now comparable with traditional silicon cells. At a practical level, the PSC technology is capable of delivering grid competitive industrial efficiencies of 12 to 16 per cent.

Solar competitiveness is measured by cost, efficiency and lifetime, so a high efficiency together with a low cost and a 20 year plus life span is the aim for Dyesol's technology.

Above: the structure and thinness of Dyesol’s technology.
Below: the rapid improvement in efficiency of solid state Perovskites compared to liquid dye solar cells.

Dyesol was always looking at the built-in photovoltaics (BIPV) market, particularly putting its coating on glass and steel, and although that hasn't changed it is now also looking at plastics and cement. Where steel was once the lead material, it is now glass.

What has taken shape is what the BIPV products will look like. The path from R&D to a commercial product starts with a solar spot and moves to a test cell, a strip of cells, a tile and finally a panel that can be installed on a building. Dyesol has made the tiles and over the next 10 months it hopes to make a one metre square panel, which is industrial scale, said Mr Caldwell.

Top and middle: the surfaces and products for Dyesol’s solar techology. Bottom: scaling Dyesol’s technology from solar spot to solar panel and built-in photovoltaics.

On the commercialization strategy, Dyesol always employed a capital-light model where it seeks partners to avoid high manufacturing costs and that approach hasn't changed.

What has changed is the partners and the locations. When it listed, there was talk of a factory in Canada but that didn't eventuate. Then for a long time the key project was a partnership with Tata Steel in Wales for DCS on steel but Tata ran into financial issues. It is still in the picture on a non-exclusive basis, but the main project now is PSC on glass through a 50-50 partnership with NesliDSC in Turkey.

The partners have a non-binding letter of intent from the Turkish Development Bank to fund the scale up from prototype to pilot line and mass manufacture of PSC solar products. If all goes well, in 2018 the plant will commence manufacture of up to 5 million square metres and 600 megawatts of product each year. This will be on glass substrate panels initially for utilities, rooftops and stand-alone installations and then in later stages for full building integrated applications.

Commercial PSC on steel is planned for delivery in around 2019.

Mr Caldwell told Eco Investor that discussions are underway with potential partners in Australia and other countries and Dyesol hopes to announce similar arrangements along the lines of those in Turkey later this year and particularly next year.

A third change for Dyesol is that it now has a substantial cornerstone investor in Tasnee, which has 33.5 per cent of the equity and in the process helped Dyesol to a cash position of $8 million. Dyesol also has a large and loyal retail investor base.

The Tasnee shareholding is large and could get larger if Dyesol were to need more capital. In response to a shareholder inquiry, Mr Caldwell said Dyesol has received no indication from Tasnee that it may be interested in a possible takeover, but were that to ever occur Australian takeover laws mean it would need to make a full value bid.

One thing that hasn't changed is Dyesol's share price. The IPO was at 20 cents and 10 years later it's around 24 cents. In between there was a wild ride up to $2.35 and down to 8.9 cents. Given that many of Dyesol's peers have disappeared off the scene, 24 cents looks pretty good. Not just because the company has survived, but also because its technology is still a world leader in its field, it now has a clear path to commercialization, and it remains one of the leading speculative cleantechs. (ASX: DYE)





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