New Startup Heliotrope Photonics Inc. Launches to Boost Solar Panel Efficiency

Photo of Heliotrope founders standing next to each other.

TOV is excited to announce the launch of Heliotrope Photonics Inc., a new startup that’s developing light-shifting thin films to boost the performance of solar panels. The company was founded by Minh Tran, PhD (Tandon, ‘23), who earned her doctoral degree under the mentorship of Professor Eray Aydil, and Conrad Caviezel (Stern, ‘24). 

Solar energy is a clean and abundant energy source and an essential part of a renewable energy future. Solar panel manufacturing prices have dropped dramatically over the past several decades due to economies of scale, automation, and advances in manufacturing. However, now that the industry has matured, these cost reductions have leveled off and manufacturers are looking for new ways to improve solar panel efficiency. 

In the most common solar cell technology, only certain wavelengths can be efficiently used to make energy. Ultraviolet (UV) and blue light are not converted to electrical power as well as near-infrared (NIR) light, meaning that much of the potential energy of the solar light that reaches a panel is wasted. 

Heliotrope’s light-shifting coating can increase solar panel efficiency by 8-15% by converting the sun’s UV and blue light into NIR light (the more efficient source for solar cells), decreasing the manufacturing cost (dollars/watt) and increasing the panel’s value. The coating can be applied to solar glass using known industry techniques and does not require a new production line, making it easy to integrate into existing factories. Additionally, UV rays can cause the cells to degrade more quickly, so shifting the rays into the NIR part of the spectrum might extend the lifespan of the panels so they don’t have to be serviced or replaced as often.

Heliotrope has worked closely with Technology Opportunities & Ventures to file patents on the innovation and license the intellectual property from the University. In preparation for the startup’s launch, the team participated in NYU Tandon Future Labs A/X Venture Studio, utilized resources at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute’s Leslie eLab, and participated in the EI’s Tech Venture Workshop. The team also won the Technology Venture Competition Audience Choice Award in the Entrepreneurs Challenge hosted by NYU Stern’s Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship and took the top prize in the U.S. Department of Energy’s EnergyTech University Prize competition. They recently participated in the Venture for Climate Tech accelerator program and they’re currently in the NSF Innovation Corps (I-CorpsTM) National Teams program’s fall 2023 Cohort with over twenty other teams from around the country.

“We were both drawn to this area of research because we could see the possibility that this technology could deliver a real change to the industry,” says co-founders Tran and Caviezel. “When solar panels are more efficient, the energy will be more affordable and that will drive solar adoption. Increasing solar energy production is an important step in protecting the planet from climate change, which has been a significant driver as we’ve worked towards this startup launch.”

Following the launch, Heliotrope will focus on finding investors to help fund prototype development and the testing required to ensure that the technology provides the expected efficiency boost and has sufficient durability in various environmental conditions. The company expects to attract great interest from the industry once the technology has been proven.