Thin-Film Solar Panel Maker Konarka Files for Bankruptcy

Konarka Technologies Inc., the thin-film solar panel manufacturer backed by Chevron Corp., Draper Fisher Jurvetson and New Enterprise Associates Inc., filed for bankruptcy in Massachusetts.

“Konarka has been unable to obtain additional financing, and given its current financial condition, it is unable to continue operations,” Howard Berke, chief executive officer of the Lowell, Massachusetts-based company, said yesterday in a statement.

Konarka listed $100,000 to $500,000 in assets and $10 million to $50 million in debt in its Chapter 7 filing yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Worcester, Massachusetts. Konarka NB Holdings LLC, in a separate filing, listed $1 million to $10 million in assets and as much as $50,000 in debt.

At least four other U.S. solar panel manufacturers filed for bankruptcy in the past year as the price of the panels fell 50 percent due to oversupply and production expansion in China.

Konarka’s solar panels were made from a conductive polymer invented by company co-founder and Nobel Prize-winner Alan Heeger, not from silicon used in conventional solar panels.

Manufacturers of thin-film solar products such as Konarka attracted venture investments as the price of polysilicon, the raw material in conventional panels, steadily increased and peaked at $475 a kilogram in 2008. The material’s average spot price has since fallen to $23.20 a kilogram, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

Konarka’s Technology

Konarka printed its conductive polymer onto a flexible plastic backing material, an approach that was simpler and saved costs compared to conventional solar panel manufacturing, and the panels were flexible enough to be incorporated into buildings or other urban structures, according to the company.

Konarka’s technology was less efficient at converting light into electricity than others in the industry. Its panels had a conversion efficiency of about 9 percent, according to the company’s website. Semprius Inc., a solar panel maker backed by Siemens AG, claims to have demonstrated the world’s highest efficiency in the lab of 33.9 percent.

Its other investors included Konica Minolta Holdings Inc., Total SA, Good Energies Inc., Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund LP. The company raised at least $189 million in venture capital since 2001, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Shareholder ‘Tragedy’

“This is a tragedy for Konarka’s shareholders and employees and for the development of alternative energy in the U.S.,” Berke said.

Konarka was one of the first solar companies to be funded with venture capital, said Nathaniel Bullard, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance in San Francisco. “It received its first venture investments nearly 11 years ago, in August 2001.”

The company’s technology has “great promise though with the eternal caveats” regarding cost, efficiency and a need for industrial partners, Bullard said.

The case is In re Konarka Technologies, 12-42095, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Massachusetts (Worcester.)

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