Driven by the promise of cheap, printed solar modules that can be made colorful and transparent, technically unsavvy investors rushed to invest in Massachusetts organic photovoltaic developer Konarka to the tune of US$170 million, with an additional US$30 million coming from grant funding. Konarka took that investment and built what it claimed was a 1 GW manufacturing line, although the line would certainly never come close to that capacity. With ten times higher cost, and ten times lower efficiency and lifetime compared to alternative solar technologies, the math never added up for Konarka’s ‘Power Plastic’.
Konarka’s underlying technology was never market ready and its failure was no surprise to those that read Lux Research’s profiles on the troubled company dating back more than 3 years. While in the middle of yet another funding round, Konarka finally ran out of money, showing that US$200 million just doesn’t get one as far as it used to. Now creditors are left to sell off the pieces to recoup a fraction of their sunken investment as Konarka blames the collapse on an inability to raise more funding. However, raising funding, more than solar module development, was where the company excelled. Finding market success in emerging technologies takes many factors, but a viable technology underpins all of them, something that Konarka never had and no credible path to attain. A viable market helps as well, and with a projected organic photovoltaic market size of a meager US$159 million in 2020, Konarka won’t be the last to run out of investors required to be as long on patience as they are blessed with money. Buyers and investors beware.
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