This afternoon, U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman is expected to formally announce the Bush Administration's Solar America Initiative -- a $148 million program designed to accelerate advanced solar electric technologies. He will do so from the headquarters of a small nanotechnology start-up company called Konarka.
At the present time, there is no way to invest in Konarka, although it has received substantial venture capital funding from both Chevron-Texaco (NYSE: CVX ) and Eastman Chemical (NYSE: EMN ) . Still, investors interested in solar cell technology will want to put the company on their radar screens, because it's creating a potentially disruptive technology.
In its simplest form, Konarka is developing inexpensive, lightweight plastic rolls embedded with titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which can efficiently convert sunlight into electricity.
Interestingly, unlike some other thin-film solar providers I discussed earlier today, Konarka first hopes to develop flexible solar coatings for electronic communication devices.
The company doesn't yet have a product on the market, and it's publicly stated that it won't until 2008. Yet I know that it's received a good deal of funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, and that the military is keenly interested in using its technology to reduce our soldiers' reliance on heavy batteries. (If soldiers' electronic equipment needs to be recharged less frequently, they won't have to lug around as many heavy batteries.)
I'm guessing that Konarka's first product will be some kind of plastic solar fabric, allowing our troops' tents to double as energy collection devices. Alternatively, it could be some kind of lightweight, portable battery recharger.
If the technology is successful, look for major laptop computer manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) , as well as mobile phone makers like Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , to begin investigating how it could either supplement or reduce their products' reliance on batteries.
I like both Konarka's technology and its unconventional approach to applying solar power to markets other than the home and business segment, and I feel it has all the trappings of a future Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Even if it doesn't go public soon, investors will want to keep an eye on companies employing Konarka's technology, because it could give them a competitive advantage in the commercial marketplace.
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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Dell is a Stock Advisor and Inside Value selection. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.