Flashback to February 2006 – Cyrium Technologies

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At Cyrium Technologies, Edward Sloot has assumed the presidency at an exciting juncture – Cyrium has superb energy-saving technology under development, and is planning for the next challenge, going to market. Introduction was provided by Raj Narula, senior advisor to Cyrium and a veteran Ottawa technology entrepreneur. I visited Ed, Raj, and Mike Manson at their National Research Council incubator facilities on Montreal Road.

Cyrium drives disruptive innovation

The company’s solar cell technology was developed by its founder and CTO, Dr. Simon Fafard – a former senior research officer with NRC – who envisioned a disruptive innovation for the global energy market. They have recently received $3 million in funding from the Business Development Bank of Canada (Technology Seed Investments), Chrysalix Energy and Pangaea Ventures.

Their “triple-junction” solar cell technology is expected to deliver about 38% conversion efficiency in space applications, a 40% jump over incumbent technologies, which now deliver 27%. As Sloot comments, “This will be the biggest improvement in solar cell energy conversion efficiency, in one step, that the world has ever seen.”

Application opportunities

Application opportunities are in space (satellite power source) and for terrestrial energy needs (industries, power grids, remote communities). In the short term, expensive satellites can be made to work better and last longer. In the long term, the planet’s global warming situation can be dramatically improved, through replacing the use of fossil fuels.
We discussed several elements of their early market strategy, which have relevance to those readers at a similar stage, seeking to win over their first “Early Adopters”. In the context of Geoffrey Moore’s nine points of market strategy, I’ll relate the Cyrium story to the first four points, which have most of the impact on market success:

1. Who is the buyer?
Early adopters in space science applications will be addressed first. Here the buyers are visionaries, happy to be part of a leading edge technology. Cyrium’s solar cells will be used in a non-mission critical way to deliver stand-by/alternative power to the scientific payload. These applications will provide insurers with evidence of a new technology’s reliability in space. As the company develops space experience and gains the endorsement of satellite insurance underwriters, Cyrium anticipates a strong market pull from the commercial satellite market, which will consider the application of Cyrium cells to the core power needs of new satellites.

2. What is the compelling reason to buy?
Satellites are getting power hungry, especially with the advent of High Definition TV. The Cyrium technology can deliver more energy per unit of cell area, hence satellite designers get more energy for the higher bandwidth HDTV transmissions. The overall satellite solar panel size can be 40% smaller; hence shorter support arms can attach sufficient cells to the satellite, reducing rotational inertia. This saves propellant needed to adjust earth-facing orientation, thus extending satellite life. In addition, Cyrium’s new technology has better radiation resistance, thus less degradation over time, again extending life of the satellite.

3. What is the whole product?
The Cyrium “core product” is a III-V semiconductor wafer designed to capture solar photon energy from a wider spectrum (i.e. more wavelength). For scientific readers, it is gallium arsenide on a germanium substrate. A semiconductor fab plant will be engaged as an outsourced facility to do wafer production. Wafers are delivered to customers who have existing expertise in panel assembly, and access to qualified specialty suppliers who do dicing, layering and connections to create a solar panel.
As research continues, the company expects to evolve the core technology to include silicon substrates, achieving much lower price points for a given performance level – enabling expansion into new markets.

4. What partners and allies are needed?
Cyrium will be engaging key advisors with specialized, detailed knowledge and credibility in solar cell technology and associated applications. Their role will be to create peer recognition through their respective networks and extend the market reach for Cyrium’s products.

In the future, fields of solar cells could efficiently feed utility power grids, powering industries and small towns, especially in sunny areas with high annual “degree days”. Longer-term success ties in to other energy source evolutions – for instance vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells, where billions have already been spent on vehicle designs. The cost of extracting hydrogen is a barrier to adoption of these vehicles, but floating farms of highly efficient solar panels could provide the electricity necessary to extract hydrogen from water, nurturing an economical fuel supply to a whole new fleet. Cyrium is aiming its market-shaping disruptive technology at these bold new horizons, using a realistic market entry strategy to deliver successful innovation for its early customers.

This article by Peter Fillmore, was originally published in SCAN – MARKETECH in February 2006.

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