Bloo Solar is just the kind of business that the El Dorado Hills Business Park was designed to attract. The 900-acre business park south of Highway 50 was created with research and development zoning to interest promising companies in locating and growing in El Dorado County.
Bloo Solar was founded in 2005 as Q1 NanoSystems when the company reached an exclusive licensing agreement with UC Davis. The agreement allows Bloo Solar to use the patented Solar Brush process invented by researchers at the university.
Bloo Solar President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Bawden said the previous generation of photovoltaic panels produce peak efficiency during a brief period of the day when the sun’s rays are directly traveling to a site on earth. Bloo Solar products are made from ultrathin film photovoltaic materials that use 90 percent less material than the crystalline silicon–based products, but produce much higher levels of clean, renewable energy from the sun.
The Solar Brush design extends the peak efficiency to around three hours on either side of absolute direct sun’s rays, around six hours a day. Each rod is a single junction solar cell. The rods are micron-sized, about the size of a red blood cell. A one-centimeter square contains 3.9 million rods. The layers are even tinier, nano-sized.
By increasing efficiency, the cost of power is reduced. The goal is to make the clean, safe, renewable below grid parity, cheaper than fossil-fuel electricity now.
Q1 NanoSystems was founded by John Argo (an MBA graduate of UC Davis), Brian Argo, Ruxandra Vidu (then a postdoctoral researcher) and Pieter Stroeve (professor of chemical engineering and materials sciences at UC Davis). The company first located in West Sacramento.
The founders completed stage one of the start-up, creating a company that could develop the product. Taking it to market requires a different skill set.
Bawden joined Q1 in 2007. He was co-founder of Jadoo Power Systems in Folsom, which developed fuel cell technology. He said the federal government had hamstrung the ability of fuel cell technology to be profitable, “But they haven’t found a way to regulate the sun yet.”
Vidu returned to her research, but is available for consultation. John Argo is now a consultant to start-up companies. He checks in with Bloo Solar. Brian Argo moved to Wisconson. Stroeve continues his work at UC Davis.
In 2008 Bawden changed the name to Bloo Solar. The spelling is phonetic. The name “Blue Solar” was already taken. The blue-and-gold logo represents the company’s use of the sun’s blue rays and the energy from the sun.
No starry-eyed romantic about clean energy, Bawden, with a degree in mechanical engineering from Sacramento State University, concentrates on “what works.” He has 23 years of experience in technology, business development and investment management. At Aerojet he strategically positioned various product lines. A local boy, he grew up in Sacramento and attended Hiram Johnson High School.
Bawden holds four patents with the U.S. Patent Office. He received the Group Achievement Award from NASA and the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2006 Award for Emerging Markets-Northern California.
Bawden assembled a team to lead the company. John Fisher is vice president finance. Fisher has more than 25 years of executive financial and operational experience with high growth technology companies. He is a co-inventor on three pending energy patents. He graduated from UC Berkeley in accounting and marketing and has an MBA in Finance. He is a Certified Public Accountant.
Mohan Bhan is chief technology officer. He has worked in the solar and semiconductor industries for 22 years. He has extensive background in photovoltaic device engineering, modeling and processing for improving solar cell conversion efficiency and hands-on experience with development of thin-film based solar cell materials. He earned a Ph.D in physics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.
John Bohland is vice president of module operations. He has led technical manufacturing operations for more than 25 years, managing projects from concept to commercialization. He has led the development of technical glass products. Bohland is a certified project management professional.
Bob Smith is vice president operations and has more than 20 years of experience managing operations and engineering in the fast-paced, low-margin commodity electronics environments. He is a widely published authority on thin-film deposition equipment and technology. Smith is named on numerous vacuum technology patents.
When Bloo Solar outgrew its West Sacramento quarters, Bawden first looked around El Dorado Hills and Folsom. The staff of 12 live in the local area. Their new quarters, at 5000 Robert J. Mathew Parkway, is where Bawden first worked when he graduated from college. “My office was two doors down the hall,” he said.
The building suited Bloo Solar’s needs and has space next door. “I’d really like to see a glass manufacturer nearby,” he said.
Before committing to the space he contacted the El Dorado Hills Chamber of Commerce and El Dorado County officials. He received a warm welcome.
The El Dorado County Chief Administrative Office provided information on the permit process, fees and contacts for permits and facilitated the process with county departments and outside agencies. Bloo Solar submitted a building permit application that the county reviewed on a priority basis. The building permit for tenant improvements was issued within five working days. The building permit fees were waived. El Dorado County Air Quality Management District is working with Bloo Solar directly for its air quality permit.
The company moved into its new building this fall. “Morale soared,” said Bhan. “We love it here.”
El Dorado County Supervisor John Knight said timing was a consideration. “There was a short window to get the tenant improvement plans approved, construction started and a move-in date.” Bloo Solar did its part. “Roger Trout, our community development director, said their tenant plans were complete, no problems, the best he has seen. The fire district was also quick with its approval.”
As Bloo Solar ramps up, the company will be hiring more people — technicians, assembly people, solar engineers. Bawden expects many will move from Silicon Valley, but there may be qualified people locally. He envisions a prototype of 2,000 to 5,000 models in 2013. They will have to be certified by third-party labs before they can be put into production, projected for 2014.
The panels will be 2 feet by 4 feet, each carrying 500 billion solar cell rods. “They can be used in any configuration for residential or commercial use,” he said.
It’s a clean process. All materials or either recycled or reclaimed. “There are only four materials,” Bawden said.
Bawden is positive about the future of Bloo Solar. “For the past five years, 50 percent of new venture investment has been in clean energy. Of that, 50 percent has been in solar technology. Our panels will produce 50 percent more power than other solar companies with 90 percent less material than current systems.”
He does not believe the Solyndra situation has any reflection on Bloo Solar. “Solyndra built a 1 million square-foot plant in Fremont. That was a big capital investment. It took three years to get the government loan. It cost $2.5 million to apply. By the time Solyndra got the money, its technology was obsolete. The Chinese process loans in one month and the Chinese companies dropped the price on their products and flooded the U.S. market. The timing didn’t work for Solyndra. Bloo Solar is entirely funded by private investment.”
Debbie Manning, president and chief executive officer of the El Dorado Hills Chamber of Commerce and California Welcome Center, said, “The chamber is thrilled that Bloo Solar chose our business park to locate in. The three-year projection on employees is 300 to 350, including many engineers and engineer techs who will most likely relocate to El Dorado Hills. It’s the best of both worlds when you create jobs that afford the employees the opportunity to live in our community.”
As head of Bloo Solar, Bawden can also draw on two other experiences in his life. As a young man, he raced Formula One cars. Two characteristics of race car drivers is that they are intelligent and willing to take risks as long as they feel they are in control of the situation, according to Dr. Richard Lister, a specialist in competitive psychology.
The other experience was a two-year sail with his wife, Glenda. They sailed through the Pacific Ocean and wound up in Sydney, Australia. “It was life changing,” said Bawden.
He enjoys working in the business park, where his children attend school. He drives them in his electric car. Kelsey, 12, attends Golden Hills and Cayman, 11, is at Marble Valley.
“We’re happy to be here. We hope to do good things at Bloo Solar,” said Bawden.