Seed capital for the clean-tech start-up SOLAR MATERIALS

bmp Ventures AG (bmp) and IBG Risikokapitalfonds III GmbH & Co. KG (IBG) are investing in the clean-tech start-up SOLAR MATERIALS. As the number of photovoltaic (PV) systems continues to grow, so too will the volume of solar modules that need to be recycled. With its innovative technology, SOLAR MATERIALS GmbH is introducing a closed loop recycling system for PV energy.

Photovoltaic systems are one of the key features of the energy transition and therefore an essential part of the future energy mix. With its early subsidies for solar energy at the start of the new millennium, Germany has been one of the pioneers of the global boom in photovoltaics. Following the massive expansion in PV, we are now seeing the first wave of worn-out solar modules. In Germany alone, it is estimated that well over 100,000 metric tons of solar modules or 5 million panels will need to be recycled every year by the end of the decade. The innovative recycling technology developed by SOLAR MATERIALS offers a cost-effective, environmentally friendly solution.

Recycling solar modules – a previously unresolved problem

Solar modules consist of a plastic back panel, solar cells and a glass cover which are bonded together using a plastic film (EVA film) and stabilized with an aluminum frame. The modules are connected to the grid via a socket on the back. Separating the laminate material represents a technical challenge. Current recycling processes are based on an old technology – shredding and sorting. This allows the glass and aluminum, which are the heaviest fractions, to be recycled, but the functional materials in the solar cells – silicon and silver – cannot be recovered. The process developed by SOLAR MATERIALS enables these previously irrecoverable raw materials to be reused.

Environmentally and financially sustainable

The technology behind the process of recovering these valuable materials involves a combination of different stages and unique knowledge of materials and processes. “The technology we have developed allows us to attack the layer of plastic film that bonds the components together. Once this has been dissolved, the glass cover can be removed and we can access the printed silver conductors on the cell and the cell itself,” explained technical managing director and co-founder Jan Bargel.

“This means that we can recover not only the silicon, which uses a lot of energy in production, but most importantly the valuable silver. This makes the recycling process financially viable,” said Fridolin Franke, commercial managing director and also a co-founder. The overall results make it clear that cost-effectiveness and environmental friendliness are not mutually exclusive. The process is not only financially viable, but, in addition, recycling the raw materials uses around 80 percent less energy than primary production.

The founding of SOLAR MATERIALS GmbH is the result of several years of development work. The man with the idea behind the business and the other co-founder is Dr. Jan-Philipp Mai, whose businesses focus entirely on silicon. Following the patent application and the initial financing, the process will now be scaled up to module size. This will allow the first industrial recycling line with an annual capacity of around 4,500 metric tons to be set up by 2023.

“We were particularly impressed by the dynamic and highly motivated team,” explained David Stuck, investment manager at bmp Ventures. “The investment is based on a trusting relationship that we have been able to build up ahead of time. We are looking forward to exciting growth and a future megamarket in the historic state of Saxony-Anhalt.”

About IBG Funds
IBG Funds, which is based in Magdeburg, is the venture capital fund of the state of Saxony-Anhalt. IBG Funds makes share capital available to innovative companies with long-term, above-average growth potential and headquarters/premises in Saxony-Anhalt. In early 2017, IBG launched the new RKF III venture capital fund, which has 84 million euros available to it. The fund is financed with money from the state and the European Union and invests in innovative companies in Saxony-Anhalt that are in the seed, start-up and growth phases. IBG Funds is managed by bmp Ventures AG.

About bmp Ventures
With experience of more than 250 shareholdings across almost all technology sectors, the majority of which are in the early phase, bmp is one of the most experienced venture capital investors in Germany. Alongside its direct shareholdings, bmp has also managed venture capital funds for the KfW Banking Group and the German Investment and Development Corporation (DEG), among others. bmp is currently managing IBG Funds in Saxony-Anhalt and the early phase funds in Brandenburg. bmp has around 20 employees based in Berlin and Magdeburg.

The clean-tech start-up SOLAR MATERIALS develops technologies for recycling photovoltaic modules (PV modules). Its patent-pending recycling process allows all the raw materials in solar modules to be recovered cost-effectively. The focus is on the functional materials silver and silicon and high-quality solar glass in particular. SOLAR MATERIALS has created a closed-loop material cycle for photovoltaics which can help to make the energy supply system completely green.