The “it” material that is significantly advancing solar power also happens to be the inspiration for an exciting start-up that calls Halifax home.
Led by two long-time friends, Sam March and Dane George, Rayleigh Solar Tech is aiming commercialize perovskite solar cells. Perovskite is a solution deposited at low temperatures, easy to make, and works really well. With an efficiency that has skyrocketed to over 23 per cent, this technology has gained incredible traction in the research community in the past five years, and it will be cheaper than any existing solar cell technology.
“There is usually a trade-off for solar cells,” says March. “If they are cheap to make, they don’t work very well, but perovskite is a cheap AND efficient solar cell material”
Tinkering with an idea
“I blame everything on my parents,” says March. “Amongst other things my dad is a big nerd, and my mom is a granola, so in the end I became a nerdy granola. This project is a particularly awesome puzzle that hits the nerd and the granola in me.”
The idea for Rayleigh Solar Tech came to Sam when he was studying the fundamental properties of perovskite in the Ultrafast Quantum Control Group in Dal’s Physics Department, which is led by Kimberly Hall. The focus of this research group is on using ultrafast lasers to study how light interacts with perovskite materials.
During this time, he was reading as many research papers as possible to keep up with the world-wide surge in perovskite interest, and it became very clear to him that these particular solar cells were poised to be a disruptive technology. They are easy to integrate into various thin-film solar applications and can be coated on the exterior of any window. This kind of flexibility makes them a nice option to introduce to Canadian and international markets to offset having to burn fossil fuels for energy needs.
“Dal has been very supportive during this entire process, including teaching me everything that I know about physics, engineering, and most recently technology innovation,” says March. “I am indebted to Dr. Kimberley Hall for a decade of support and guidance, and Dr. Ian Hill for facilitating this entire project, and for advising us along the way. None of this was possible without his help, and his lab.”
A particularly awesome puzzle
For a relatively new company, there have already been several highlights for Rayleigh Solar Tech. One of these has been the opportunity to participate in the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) Atlantic program.
“It was all because of the CDL-Atlantic Site Lead Jeff Larsen,” says March. “He heard about our project and strong-armed us to join the program. It was the best decision we never made!”
CDL Atlantic, which is hosted at Dalhousie, is a seed-stage program for massively scalable, science and engineering-based companies, which has expanded nationally. This initiative capitalizes on the university’s world-class research expertise at the intersection of sustainability and technology in oceans, energy and food.
“The Creative Destruction Lab plays an important role of connecting successful business mentors with the talent, science and technology emerging from universities that can scale to make a global impact,” says Larsen, executive director, innovation and entrepreneurship.
“Sam March is a great example of how this can work, where a PhD student who might never have commercialized his research and started a company now has incorporated, investment and mentorship to try and bring next generation solar to market.”
And, a couple of months ago, Sam defended his PhD thesis the day after pitching Rayleigh Solar Tech to a roomful of investors at CDL.
“It was chaotic, exciting and stressful,” says March. “it is invaluable to have a strong team to manage the workload.”
A complicated, but incredibly exciting process
For Sam and Dane, the commercialization process has given them an opportunity to learn a lot. It’s been both complicated and exciting, but they are quick to acknowledge that a key part of their success is due to the support they have received from industry partners, investors, and business teachers.
“My training is as a scientist/engineer, so the world of business was always a mystery to me, but with the help of seasoned business teachers like Toon Naagtegaal and David Crow at THENEXTPHASE, Jeff Larsen, and all of the mentors at CDL, even someone that spent most of his time in the dark shooting lasers can start a company,” says March. “And without the early support from The Nova Scotia Department of Energy, Innovacorp, Emera Technologies, and the other CDL investors this company wouldn’t exist.”
For more information about innovation and entrepreneurship at Dalhousie, visit dalinnovates.ca
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