Dmitry Lopatin, a Russian inventor and entrepreneur, is promoting his latest product, a new type of solar battery. Lopatin’s design does not use the usual silicon, using perovskite, a calcium titanium oxide mineral, instead. The new cells as more durable and cheaper than what is available today, he claims.
India is Lopatin’s first target country. The country has launched a national programme to provide inexpensive, preferably renewable energy. The solar energy mission is a major part of this programme. Lopatin plans to enter the American and European markets next. The project is almost ready for mass-production, and Lopatin is now completing the assembly of an industrial 3D printer to be used to produce the cells.
Lopatin gained fame and a certain notoriety last summer when he was the main figure in a controversial trial, accused of drug possession after having imported a litre of the chemical solvent, gamma-butyrolactone from China. He claimed he was unaware that Russian law considers the substance, “a psychotropic compound.” He managed to prove he had acted without malicious intent and acquired the substance only for scientific purposes; so the case against him was dropped.
Well-known both inside and outside Russia, Lopatin unveiled his latest invention at the ‘Hello Tomorrow Conference’, an international summit of scientists and entrepreneurs, where he represented Russia. He is also one of the finalists of the GenerationS competition for technology startups. Lopatin’s solar cells have attracted attention of the oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, and once his 3D printer is finished, he will be able to produce 20 square meters of cells daily. The main advantage is the surface material.
“Scientists all over the world have been making solar cells using silicon, but this has several drawbacks,” Lopatin said. “If the silicon has even 0.001% of impurities then the cell will fail, and growing a crystal of pure silicon is time-consuming. That’s why silicon-based cells are two or three times more expensive than our design, and much less durable. They can fail after a few months of use. We use perovskite, which is an organo-metallic material that can be sprayed on any surface, and we can produce our cells using an industrial 3D printer.”
The future is in India
Lopatin and his partner, Oleg Baronov, have invested $20,000 of their own funds in the project, with another $30,000 coming from private investors. They need a total of $300,000 to $400,000 to begin full-scale production. In 2016, Lopatin plans to start selling his technology and the equipment to print cells. He has set up a production facility in India at one of the factories of the prominent company, Tata.
The choice of India as a production site was not accidental. That sunny country has a national programme to increase supply of electrical power to its population, and the investor plans to use state funding to continue research.
Lopatin expects to enter the American and European markets by creating joint ventures with local entrepreneurs. Producing 30 or 40 square meters of cells will cost between 2,000 and 3,000 euros which, by his estimates, should pay off for the average European family after a year or two of use.
According to Alexander Zhurba, a partner at AIST Invest, Western consumers are making the transition to alternative energy sources, but low prices of traditional fuel sources is delaying this process.
“The main risk that Lopatin’s solar battery faces is that it could be unmarketable as a business idea because the average start-up founder is not a scientist. He needs other skills to develop his business,” Zhurba said. “People who know how to make money and develop enterprises usually find other, simpler fields.”