Summary:

Stealthy startup Soladigm has landed $30 million to help build a factory to start churning out its self-tinting glass in 2012. It’s in a race with rival Sage Electrochromics, which just got $80 million for its factory.

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Stealthy startup Soladigm has landed a $30 million series C investment to help bring its self-tinting windows to commercial-scale production by early next year. The Khosla-backed startup wants its Mississippi factory to be up and running by 2012, and with rival startup Sage recently landing an $80 million investment to build its own electrochromic glass factory, the race is on.

Soladigm’s $30 million round was led by DBL Investors and Nano Dimension and included existing investors Khosla Ventures and Sigma Partners. It also included a small, undisclosed investment from GE, which named Soladigm as one of 12 winners of GE’s first round of ecomagination investments last month.

Soladigm previously raised about $30 million, as well as a $3.5 million stimulus grant from the Department of Energy. The Silicon Valley company, with technology licensed from  Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has also landed $44 million in Mississippi state loans and incentives to build its factory, which is expected to cost $130 million.

While Soladigm expects to produce its electrochromic glass from pilot lines in 2011, full-scale commercial production from the Mississippi factory is expected in 2012, CEO Rao Mulpuri said in an interview on Friday. Soladigm is also working on financial arrangements to fund the remainder of the factory construction cost, Mulpuri said, but wouldn’t go into more detail.

“All of that money is really being used to launch the commercial high-volume operation, as well as drive the sales and marketing channels to drive this into the market,” Mulpuri said. Soladigm is working with window manufacturing and installation and sales channel partners, he said, though he wouldn’t disclose which companies were involved.

Soladigm will have to line up some heavyweight partners to compete with rival Sage Electrochromics. The Faribault, Minn.-based company was awarded a $72 million DOE loan guarantee, and recently landed an $80 million strategic investment from French glass and construction giant Saint-Gobain to help build a $135 million factory in Minnesota. That gives it both financial backing and a clear path to market, as well as a potential buyer for the company’s technology in the future.

Mulpuri wouldn’t discuss technical details of Soladigm’s electrochromic glass, which can lighten or darken to block light and heat to keep buildings cooler during sunny, hot days and cut up to 20 percent from a typical building’s HVAC energy use.

But according to experts familiar with Soladigm’s technology, the company is working on two lines of self-tinting glass. For its upcoming commercial products, Soladigm is using tungsten oxide, a well-known material for smart windows that darkens when a voltage is applied to absorb more light, Delia Milliron, a nanoscience researcher at Berkeley Lab, said in an August lecture.

Soladigm is also working on a Berkeley Labs technology using magnesium as an electrochromic layer, Milliron said in August. That reacts with hydrogen gas to become magnesium hydride, which reflects light rather than absorbing it — a difference that could make the windows even more efficient at keeping buildings cool, since it would avoid having the glass itself heat up.

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Image courtesy of Soladigm.

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