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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Troupe

Optigon: Measurement Tools to Accelerate Materials Discovery and Deployment

Updated: Apr 24

Optigon is developing smarter measurement and process inspection tools for clean energy materials. Our mission is to equip research and manufacturing teams with tools that enable materials to be discovered, optimized, scaled, and deployed faster and cheaper.

 

Growing Demand for Clean Energy Materials

The urgency of climate change cannot be overstated. From more frequent and severe natural disasters to rising sea levels and disrupted weather patterns, climate change isn't just a distant threat; it's happening right now.


The generation and use of energy across all sectors plays a significant role in driving this crisis, with electricity, heat, buildings, and transportation accounting for over 74% of global greenhouse gas emissions.[1] Every time we burn fossil fuels for energy, we're pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping heat, and accelerating our path towards irreversibly damaging our planet.


But not all hope is lost. Clean energy technologies like solar panels and batteries are on the rise and offer a path forward for clean, sustainable, and cost-competitive alternatives to fossil fuels. In 2023, for instance, 53% of all new electricity generation capacity added to the U.S. grid came from solar power – a historic milestone that marked the first time in 80 years a single type of renewable energy resource provided the majority of new generation capacity.[2]


While we’re seemingly on the path towards a clean energy future, there is still a mountain of work to be done. Battery deployments are expected to grow ~15x from recent levels by the year 2030, and cumulative global solar deployments are projected to reach as high as 80 TWdc by 2050 (from our current ~ 1.5 TWdc).[3,4]

We’re merely at the very beginning of a decades-long race to reshape the ways we produce, store, and use energy.

Materials are fundamental to completing this race and achieving climate goals, as they form the basis of many clean energy technologies. From the light absorbing layers in high-efficiency solar cells to the layers that store electrons in advanced battery technologies, the quality and performance of advanced materials has a direct impact on key parameters like efficiency, longevity, and cost. The development of new materials and the expansion of existing ones will be pivotal for a clean energy transition.


The Scaling Challenge

Meeting deployment targets for energy materials will be no easy feat.

Historically, making research discoveries and bringing new energy technologies from the laboratory to mass production has been a time-consuming and complex process. It can take years to achieve satisfactory manufacturing yields and align lab-scale demonstrations with industrial-scale performance. Even in the case of relatively mature examples like silicon photovoltaics (PVs), it takes about 3 years for average solar cell efficiencies achieved in mass production to match those of champion cells fabricated in the lab.[5]


After reaching mass production, continuing to scale manufacturing capacity is a costly and challenging endeavor. Even with the best quality assurance and control tools that exist today, scrap rates well over 30% are typical for newly commissioned production lines in the battery and solar PV sectors, and it can take years before reaching steady-state yields that exceed 90-95%.[6,7] This timeline is too long to reach our climate targets.


The Need for Smarter Measurement Tools

Measurement tools offer a unique lever for accelerating the commercialization of clean energy materials and facilitating their scaled production. These tools provide detailed insight into various material properties, such as composition, structure, and performance, throughout the commercialization process. From early-stage research and development to quality assurance on full-scale production lines, measurement tools are essential for pinpointing and comprehending the properties and performance-limiting defects that impact final product quality and manufacturing yields.

Although measurement tools are essential for the commercialization and scaled production of clean energy technologies, the current landscape is far from perfect.

Traditional measurement solutions are slow, manual, and labor-intensive and often become a bottleneck for researchers and manufacturers. In a field where rapid innovation and large-scale manufacturing are crucial, these limitations impede progress and slow the rate of clean energy technology deployment.


This is a challenge our team at Optigon is deeply familiar with. About 5 years ago, I joined Dane deQuilettes and Brandon Motes to find ways we could accelerate the process of evaluating and studying emerging energy materials. At the time, we were researchers working within MIT’s GridEdge Solar Program, supporting the scalable design and commercial derisking of lightweight, flexible solar cells to increase energy access in rural economies around the world. For several years, we saw firsthand the bottleneck that materials characterization can present to a research team and the subsequent difficulties that then remain through manufacturing scale-up.


We noticed a distinct trade-off with existing tools: while some offer in-depth insights into fundamental material behaviors, they tend to be difficult to use and slow, with data acquisition times of several minutes per measurement. On the other hand, tools capable of rapid measurements, such as those suitable for manufacturing lines or high-throughput research experiments, are limited in the information they can provide. For example, most solar and battery cell manufacturers rely on end-of-line testing to assess product quality after production. This reactive approach results in delays between production and performance assessment, making it challenging to quickly identify and correct any potential issues. Auxiliary process inspection tools can complement end-of-line testing equipment, but their scope is inherently limited to material properties and production parameters indirectly tied to performance. This detached focus falls short in providing the critical, performance-related insights needed for significant quality and yield improvements.


Frustrated with the limitations and tradeoffs of existing tools, we founded Optigon with the vision of developing smarter measurement tools specifically designed for clean energy materials. Our goal is to reshape how advanced materials and clean energy technologies are discovered, optimized, and deployed by pushing the frontier of speed and automation for materials characterization and process inspection tools. By leveraging high-speed measurement capabilities and integrated data management software, we aim to provide faster, more efficient, and holistic measurement tools that streamline data collection and analysis. These tools will enable researchers and manufacturers to enhance product quality, accelerate the discovery and optimization of new technologies, and quickly validate and scale manufacturing capacity.



Optigon and our Path Ahead

As we kickstart our journey at Optigon, our team is grateful for the opportunity to support the frontlines of the clean energy transition. With a strong foundation as solar researchers and collective experience from leading institutions like ASML, CERN, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, our team is excited to drive forward the next generation of materialization characterization and process inspection tools.


Over the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to receive support from exceptional teams across the climate tech landscape. From early supporters at the U.S. Department of Energy, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and Greentown Labs, to a host of collaborators at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, MIT, and the US-MAP Consortium – we’re incredibly grateful for these partnerships and belief in our vision.


As we continue to make strides on our mission, we're excited to invite you to join us on this journey. Whether you want to see our technology in action, discuss how our tools can benefit your research or manufacturing processes, or explore opportunities to join our team, we would love to hear from you.


Let's work together to drive meaningful change and achieve a clean energy future.


More to come,


Cofounder & CEO | Optigon



 

[1] IEA, Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Energy Data Explorer (2023).


[2] Solar Energy Industries Association, Solar Market Insight Report 2023 Year in Review (2023).


[3]  Henze, V.  “Global energy storage market to grow 15-fold by 2030,” BloombergNEF (2022).


[4] Haegel, N.M. et al. “Photovoltaics at multi-terawatt scale: Waiting is not an option.” Science 380, 39-42 (2023).


[5] Chen, Y. et al. “Technology evolution of the photovoltaic industry: Learning from history and recent progress.” Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications 31,1194-1204 (2023).


[6] Bernhart, W. et al. “Battery Monitor 2022: Technology and sustainability in the battery market,” Roland Berger (2022).


[7] Osbourne, M. “Inside First Solar’s major new technology and manufacturing strategy,” PVTech (2021).

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