Swift Coat, a QESST Start-Up Company, Wins New Venture Challenge

Achievement date: 
2017
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Peter Firth, an Arizona State University (ASU) PhD student and researcher at the NSF-funded Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Engineering Research Center (ERC), pitched a business concept at the ASU New Venture Challenge based on making ordinary surfaces extraordinary using nanoparticle coatings. His idea was selected over twenty other teams in the competition and awarded $45,000 in cash, which Firth and Professor Zachary Holman used to found Swift Coat, a start-up aiming to deposit nanomaterials onto any type of surface to enhance the optical performance of thin silicon solar cells.

Impact/benefits: 

While there are over 50,000 published papers, 25,000 granted patents, and $100M invested research dollars focused on nanoparticles, there are fewer than 500 consumer products containing these materials today. This is due to a lack of scalable manufacturing techniques that can translate laboratory results into robust products. Inspired by aerosol cans, Swift Coat has developed a novel manufacturing technique for nanoparticles that combines speed and precision.

Explanation/Background: 

Swift Coat plans to commercialize the nanoparticle coating technology as a supplier of equipment, processes, and nanomaterials. While the company is investigating opportunities to use its coatings in commercial solar cells to improve efficiency and lower cost, the technology can also translate to other applications ranging from high-definition televisions to water filtration membranes. A portion of the team’s winnings from the New Venture Challenge is being used to fund its customer discovery efforts, using the Lean Launch model promoted by NSF I-Corps to arrive at a minimum viable product in its beachhead market.

Firth’s work began under a QESST research project entitled “Light management in thin silicon cells using nanomaterials and nanostructures.” Firth and Holman developed a nanomaterial deposition method in which aerosolized nanoparticles are accelerated through a slit-shaped nozzle by a gas flow and impacted onto a substrate translated under the nozzle. The thickness of the coatings can be varied from a few nanometers to a few millimeters with less than 10 percent non-uniformity across a 5-inch diameter substrate; the porosity of the coating can also be controlled. When incorporated into the rear reflector of silicon solar cells, properly designed nanoparticle coatings result in an internal rear reflectance greater than 99 percent—the best ever measured.