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UbiQD receives DOE award

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By Arin McKenna

Founder and President of UbiQD, a Los Alamos high tech startup, announced last week that the company has just been awarded a Small Business Vouchers pilot program grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
SBV grantees receive vouchers valued at $50,000 to $300,000, which are exchanged for technical assistance from one of the country’s 17 national laboratories.
The goal is to assist small businesses to deliver solutions that drive the clean energy economy toward greater commercial success.
UbiQD received the maximum award of $300,000 and is partnered with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). One other New Mexico company, Pajarito Powder, LLC in Albuquerque, was among the 43 recipients in the second round of the pilot program. Thirty-three companies were selected for round one.
SBV grants are awarded in several categories: advanced manufacturing, bioenergy, buildings, fuel cells, geothermal, solar, vehicles, water power and wind.
UbiQD’s grant is in the building category, for technology that uses low-toxicity quantum dot window tints and solar cells built into window frames to harvest sunlight for electricity.
McDaniel said he is pleased to be partnered with NREL, which he says is  “world renowned as the leader in photovoltaic research.”
“They’re the most trusted research institution in the world when it comes to solar,” McDaniel said. “So if anyone’s going to help you, they’re the ones who are going to help you the most, probably.”
McDaniel has collaborated with NREL in the past, and UbiQD’s Director of Applied Physics, Matt Bergren, was previously employed with NREL.
McDaniel would have been happy to partner with LANL, but the pilot program is structured so that labs are assisting only in predetermined categories. LANL is restricted to fuel cell and geothermal projects.
The $300,000 award is paid directly to NREL, which will provide services in two major categories.
Approximately half the money will be used for computer simulations that model factors such as performance.
“For example, does this technology make more sense in New York or Beijing or Rio de Janeiro? Depending on the latitude and longitude, the weather and various factors, it changes the economics of it,” McDaniel said.
NREL will also model costs associated with integrating a solar window into a building.
“We have a pretty good understanding of this coating we apply to the window and how much that costs, and how much it’s going to cost roughly to put a solar cell on the frame of the window,” McDaniel said. “What we don’t know is how much it costs to wire it or the cost of the inverters, which is how you couple the electricity coming out of the solar cell into the grid.”
The other half of the funding is devoted to materials characterization and device prototype characterization. UbiQD will create prototypes and send them to NREL, which will subject them to conditions such as simulated weather and sunlight to measure performance, durability and stability.
NREL also has equipment UbiQD lacks access to, such as electron microscopes and lasers, which will help UbiQD optiomize their materials and performance.
“In order to do that intelligently and not just be shooting in the dark, we need to have the capabilities that the lab has. That’s the whole idea behind the program, really, is that they’re trying to trying to help out small businesses with the capabilities of the DOE national laboratories,” McDaniels said.
According to McDaniel, the SBV grant will dovetail nicely with a $225,000 National Science Foundation grant UbiQD was awarded a month ago for developing the solar application materials. The NSF grant will pay for salaries, materials and supplies and help the company build the prototypes. The SBV grant provides technical assistance from NREL to help characterize, understand and model UbiQD’s product.
According to McDaniel, the award will help accelerate product development.
“It also validates us, validates the technology. One of the things NREL is known for is they certify solar cell efficiencies. So they’re a highly accredited and respected institution. If they say it’s this efficiency, everyone believes it,” McDaniel said.
“If some small company tries to say, well, it’s this efficiency…I’m not saying they won’t believe us, but it just carries a lot more weight if NREL is involved and is basically validating.
“And even getting selected for the program was a big validation.”