Caltech's ETC Solar 'Cleans Up' in Cleantech University Competition

Published : Wednesday, June 27, 2018 | 5:26 AM

Congratulations to our winners! Nicolas Pinkowski (Ammonia-by-Wire); Thomas Russell (ETC Solar); Andrew Ponec and Justin Briggs (Antora Energy) pictured with FLOW's Stephanie Yanchinski.

Caltech’s ETC Solar LLC, a startup established by newly graduated Caltech scientists and engineers, has won the top prize at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Cleantech UP collegiate competition, a regional gateway for entry into the DOE’s Cleantech national competition.

The competition aims to inspire and equip the next generation of clean energy entrepreneurs and innovators by providing them with competitive funding for business development and commercialization training and other educational opportunities.

ETC Solar, which is commercializing effectively-transparent contacts, an invention from Caltech’s Atwater Group to mitigate shading losses for solar cells, won the $50,000 first prize for its being a major innovation in solar cell architecture and a novel tool for manufacturing.

ETC Solar’s effectively-transparent contacts increase solar panel efficiency by five percent – a historic leap forward in improving solar panel performance. By making solar panels more efficient, the manufacturing cost per wattage will be significantly reduced.

Using ETC in all solar panels installed in 2017 alone would have saved 5.3 gigawatts of electricity – equivalent to eliminating 30 million tons of carbon dioxide a year or taking 6 million cars off the road.

The Caltech ETC Solar team also invented a drop-in replacement printing tool that lays the ground for product manufacture at scale.

The team expects to develop a prototype beta version by September 2019, when testing with industry partners will begin.

ETC Solar LLC is comprised of Thomas Russell, Staff Researcher in the Atwater group, and Rebecca Saive, Assistant Professor at the University of Twente, the Netherlands, and a former Atwater postdoc and senior research scientist.

They will go on to represent the Western region of the U.S. at the Cleantech national competition in pursuit of the national prizes of $100,000 from the DOE and $35,000 from the Department of Defense.

Launched in 2015, Cleantech UP builds on its precursor, the DOE National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, which expanded student engagement in clean energy technologies from 2011 to 2015. Since the competition started, participants have formed more than 200 ventures, created more than 120 jobs, and raised more than $120 million in follow-on funding.

Caltech is one of eight institutions that host annual Cleantech UP Collegiate Competitions.

To learn more about the competition and Caltech’s FLOW program, visit

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