Ever have your iPod die on you right when you leave for a jog? Or realize your digital camera is out of juice during a perfect photo opp? Now two companies are harnessing the power of the sun to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Sports apparel retailer Neuber and unique solar panel maker Konarka have teamed up to make solar-powered “Sun Bags” that hold and charge personal electronics while you’re out and about.
The key to the bags is Konarka’s patented Power Plastic, a flexible, lightweight polymer that quickly converts sunlight to energy. Weighing in at 500 grams — including the continuously rechargeable battery — the bags come in 37 colors and can have designs printed on them, just like protective cases for the iPhone.
German-based Neuber isn’t the first company to offer a solar-powering bag. Voltaic Systems, Eclipse Solar Gear, Sakku and Reware all offer photovoltaic backpacks, tote bags and carrying cases for electronics. But Neuber’s new iteration, with Konarka’s help, is one of the smallest and most versatile on the market. Many of its competitors’ models are heavy looking and feeling, while the Power Plastic itself has a sleek, artistic aesthetic.
Portable charging is just one of many applications Konarka has explored for its Power Plastic. It has also joined forces with other companies to produce smart cards, charge personal care devices like toothbrushes, power emergency generators for the police, military and medical facilities, and even charge up electric cars with solar carport or garage roof covers. In the green building category, Konarka’s product has also been integrated into window panels to heat homes and buildings.
The Lowell, Mass.-based solar plastic company has benefited from generous capital financing, so far. Last December, a particularly difficult time for cleantech companies to find funds, Konarka landed $45 million in strategic funding to bring its Power Plastic to market. Interestingly, oil and gas company Total provided that round, acquiring a 20 percent stake. Before that, it brought in $115 million from a large flock of investors, including 3i Group, Chevron, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Good Energies, Mackenzie Financial, New Enterprise Associates, Vanguard Venture Partners, NGEN Partners, Angeleno Group and Asenqua Ventures.
Founded in 2001, Konarka appeared directionless as recently as 2007. At that point, it had its non-silicon solar cell technology in hand, but hadn’t expressed interest in commercial or plant-based deployment like its competitors First Solar and Nanosolar, which both charged ahead, raising even larger funding rounds. It was, however, testing portable charging applications, which have now fashionably come to fruition.
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