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Semprius Surges Into 2010: A Siemens Deal, VC Funds

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Hit the ground running in 2010. That appears to be the game plan for Semprius, a semiconductor technology company that is developing solar concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), systems that use mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight onto highly efficient solar cells. Just a month into the new year, Semprius has already closed an $8.16 million second round of venture funding and cut deals with heavyweights Siemens (s SI) and the Department of Energy.

According to a Securities and Exchange Commission document filed late last month, the Durham, N.C.-based firm increased a previous round of funding (announced last June) by about $1.7 million. ARCH Venture Partners, Applied Ventures, Illinois VENTURES and a handful of others were disclosed as investors in June, but it’s unclear who joined in the final tranche. We’re waiting to hear back from Semprius on more details of the funding.

Perhaps the startup’s biggest win to date is its partnership with Siemens Industry Inc., a U.S. affiliate of Germany’s Siemens, a global powerhouse in automation systems, power conversion and control technologies, among other things (see How Siemens Is Tackling the Smart Grid). Semprius announced last week that it is partnering with Siemens Industry to jointly develop and deploy a “plug-and-play” CPV demonstration system based on Semprius’ solar module arrays and Siemens’ automation and control components. The companies said the systems are slated to be installed in “numerous” test sites, including at utility sites, commercial sites, and government facilities, but they didn’t say when the demos would be up and running.

Semprius says its secret sauce is what it calls a micro-transfer printing technology, a process in which semiconducting material is rapidly stamped onto a substrate, such as glass or plastic (see a video here). The technology is a faster and less expensive way to produce semiconductor devices – in this case solar modules but it could be extended to other industries such as disk drives – than current manufacturing techniques on the market, according to Semprius.

The startup’s initial focus is the production of CPV modules for “large-scale” power generation. These modules would use gallium arsenide-based, multi-junction solar cells coupled with “inexpensive optics” to concentrate solar energy onto the high-efficiency cells.  The company’s CPV system design also calls for using dual-axis trackers, and that’s at least partly where Siemens comes in — its automation and control equipment could be used to drive the trackers. In addition to any technological support from the deal, Siemens adds a new layer of validation for the startup’s technology and business plan.  

Semprius also announced in January that it is one of four companies selected to participate in the Department of Energy’s PV Technology Incubator Program. Under the program, the department will invest up to $12 million total in the four companies to support their advancements to full commercial scale. Semprius is off to a strong 2010, but commercial production will be where the rubber meets the road.