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Oil Giant Total Takes Stake in Solar Startup Konarka

Thin-film solar startup Konarka said this morning that the massive French oil and gas company Total (s tot) has become its largest shareholder, investing $45 million for a stake of slightly less than 20 percent. Total says it aims to boost its crystalline silicon-based solar cell production, and particularly its thin-film solar products, through Konarka. The deal will also see Konarka develop components for products made by some of Total’s chemical subsidiaries, among them Atotech, Bostik, Hutchinson, Sartomer and Total Petrochemicals USA.

This is far from Total’s first foray into solar; its previous investments include a 47.8 percent interest in photovoltaic startup Photovoltech, a 50 percent stake in solar equipment maker Tenesol and a 25 percent interest in thin-film solar R&D company Novacis. But given Total’s massive footprint — the company is the fourth-largest publicly trade oil and gas company in the world and has close to 100,000 employees — its solar investments only account for a small part of its business.

For Konarka, however, Total’s latest investment is significant. The New Bedford, Mass.-based thin-film organic solar startup was founded seven years ago, has now raised close to $150 million and is just starting to produce its organic photovoltaic solar film, branded “Power Plastic.” The company is already backed by Mackenzie Financial, Good Energies, Pegasus Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Asenqua Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, 3i, Vanguard Ventures, Chevron (s CVX), Massachusetts Green Energy Fund, NGEN Partners, Angeleno Group and Asenqua Ventures.

Total’s funding comes just as Konarka is moving into production. The company turned on a 1-GW solar printing press in October, production on which it plans to ramp up in “early 2009.” The company says its organic solar panels are able to absorb a much wider spectrum of light than other thin films, allowing for higher efficiencies and even indoor applications.

Image courtesy of Konarka.

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