Konarka, maker of a unique solar plastic, is an old company. In nine years, it has raised more than $150 million from the likes of Chevron, New Enterprise Associates, and the government. But it’s had little to show for it on the market. That could change with a new round of funding (its seventh) that closed today, totaling $23.8 million, according to a filing with the SEC.
Will the company finally have what it needs to step out of the shadows?
Money isn’t Konarka’s only strength. Its technology is actually pretty special too. Its patented photovoltaic material, called Power Plastic, is more efficient than even the best thin-film systems devised by the likes of First Solar and Solyndra. It is lightweight, portable, and perhaps most importantly, flexible — making it suitable for a host of interesting applications ranging from rooftops to apparel.
It’s started to take advantage of this last facet, partnering with sports apparel maker Neuber to create messenger bags capable of charging portable electronics like laptops and mobile phones with solar energy. But this is just one of many uses for the Power Plastic the company has devised. It has also formed ties with companies that produce smart cards, personal care electronics like toothbrushes, emergency generators, carport rooftops and vehicle covers. It’s even been integrated into window panels to heat homes and buildings.
Yet, while it has shipped moderate amounts of plastic to some of these partners, it has yet to launch any products of its own, or even to churn out a significant volume of Power Plastic to date — as far as we know, at least.
Its first manufacturing facility (250,000 square-feet) opened its doors in October 2008 in Mass., but production stalled during the economic downturn — even though it raised $45 million in venture capital almost simultaneously. As Earth2Tech notes, the company made some noise early last year about shipping the plastic in commercial volumes by the end of 2009, but this deadline came and went too.
When the news of the Neuber deal broke in October, VentureBeat reported that it looked like the company had finally found its footing in the portable electronics charging market after more than five years of lacking direction. But there was no real follow up.
Still, this doesn’t seem to have shaken investor faith, with the $23.8 million coming from existing backers Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Good Energies and 3i Group, among others. This round could herald the company’s big breakout in 2010.
In the past it has also received private financing from Mackenzie Investments, the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund, Partech International, Total S.A., Angeleno Group, NGEN Partners, Pegasus Capital, Asenqua Ventures and Vanguard Ventures.