First Imagine! is pleased to announce the completion of its investment in SOLAR MATERIALS, a cleantech startup from Magdeburg specializing in solar module recycling. With its innovative recycling technology, SOLAR MATERIALS closes the raw material loop in the solar industry.
The EUR 2.5 million financing round is led by existing investor bmp Ventures, which invests with IBG RKF III GmbH & Co. KG, First Imagine! and Katapult. With the funding, SOLAR MATERIALS builds its first automated recycling plant with a capacity of approximately 3,000 tons per year, which will start operations this year. Photovoltaics (PV) is one of the pillars of the energy transition and thus an indispensable part of the future energy mix. With its early promotion of solar energy around the turn of the millennium, Germany is one of the pioneers of the global PV boom. The pioneering role in PV expansion is now being followed by the first wave of solar modules to be recycled. In Germany alone, the amount of solar modules to be recycled is estimated to grow to well over 100,000 tons or 5 million modules per year by the end of the decade. Globally, 1 million tons or 50 million end-of-life solar modules are already expected by 2030. With its patented recycling technology, SOLAR MATERIALS offers an economical and at the same time ecological solution.
Boris Dorin, Partner at FirstImagine!, comments
“The recycling of solar panels is a global challenge which to some extend can undermine the positive impact solar energy brings to our planet. I strongly believe that SOLAR MATERIALS have all the necessary elements which are required to tackle this problem – efficient and scalable technology, great team, entrepreneurial spirit and great devotion to the cause.”
Recycling of solar modules – A yet unsolved problem
Solar modules consist of a composite of a plastic back, solar cells and cover glass, which are welded together by a plastic film (so-called EVA film) and stabilized by an aluminum frame. The modules are connected to the grid through a junction box on the back of the modules. Separating the laminate is a technical challenge. Today’s recycling processes are based on the familiar recycling approach of shredding and sorting. While this allows glass and aluminum to be recovered, the functional materials of the solar cells silicon and silver are lost. SOLAR MATERIALS has developed its own process to recover the previously lost raw materials silicon and silver.
Carl Strøm Walton, Investment Manager at Katapult VC, a leading Norwegian climate tech-focused fund and accelerator, says
“For our 2022 cohort, we evaluated more than 2,000 impressive climate tech companies from across the globe and we selected the SOLAR MATERIALS team as 1 of just 23 in our final cohort. We expect (and encourage) a further accelerated rollout of PV modules worldwide, but we believe the limitations of PV module recycling is a rapidly growing issue for solar asset owners. The SOLAR MATERIALS solution can be game-changing in solving circularity of raw materials in the solar energy space. A clear match with our investment criteria but also speaking to the core of our vision of building a thriving world for all.”
Ecologically and economically sustainable
The value-added recycling is made technically possible by a combination of thermo-mechanical process steps and unique materials and process know-how. “Within the last year, we have scaled our technology to module size and demonstrated and tested the individual process steps with our in-house developed machines,” explains technical managing director and co-founder Jan Bargel. “The quality of the raw materials we recover has already been confirmed by external laboratories and potential customers, which has also enabled us to prove the economic viability of our process,” Fridolin Franke, commercial managing director and also co-founder, adds. A look at the overall balance sheet shows that cost-effectiveness and ecology are not mutually exclusive. Not only is the process economically sustainable, but the recycled raw materials require about 80% less energy than their primary production.
David Stuck, Principal at bmp Ventures, adds
“The team has made excellent progress since our initial Seed investment, providing tech and business proof. We are therefore very pleased to have further investors on board and to increase our investment in SOLAR MATERIALS to support the company in entering the market with their first automated solar recycling line in Saxony-Anhalt.“
The foundation of SOLAR MATERIALS GmbH is the result of several years of development. The idea generator and co-founder is Dr. Jan-Philipp Mai, whose ventures are fully dedicated to silicon as a resource. “Starting in September, we will put our automated recycling line with a capacity of 3,000 tons per year into operation at our site in Magdeburg. For this purpose, we are currently in the process of being certified as a specialist waste management company, in order to be able to meet not only the ecological and economic, but also all the legal requirements of our customers,” says Dr. Jan-Philipp Mai, describing the company’s next steps.
With the financing round now completed, the company considers itself well equipped to start the commercial recycling of solar modules before the end of this year.
About the IBG Funds
The IBG Funds, based in Magdeburg, are the venture capital funds of the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The IBG funds provide equity capital to innovative companies with sustainable and above-average growth potential and headquarters/operations in Saxony-Anhalt. At the beginning of 2017, IBG launched the new venture capital fund RKF III with a volume of EUR 84 million. The fund is financed by funds from the state and the European Union and invests in innovative companies in Saxony-Anhalt in the seed, startup and growth phases. The IBG funds are managed by bmp Ventures AG.
About bmp Ventures
With a background of experience of more than 250 investments from almost all technology segments, the majority of which are early stage, bmp is one of the most experienced venture capital investors in Germany. In addition to direct investments, bmp has managed venture capital funds for KfW Bankengruppe and DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft, among others. Currently, bmp manages the IBG funds in Saxony-Anhalt and the early-stage fund Brandenburg. bmp has around 20 employees at its offices in Berlin and Magdeburg.
Katapult VC is a global investment company focusing on early stage impact driven technology startups. Over the last 6 years, Katapult has made 146 investments in impact tech startups from 47 different countries. Katapult invests within three investment verticals: Ocean-, Climate- and Food-tech.
Katapult has run 10 flagship accelerator programs and three corporate accelerator programs.
In 2021, Katapult launched the Katapult Foundation with the aim of building a larger network around impact investing.
Katapult also hosts the annual Katapult Future Fest in Oslo, bringing together founders, investors and some of the most prominent figures within impact investment.
About First Imagine!
First Imagine! is a European-based venture investor exclusively focused in the energy transition, covering a broad range of technologies from energy generation to transmission and distribution, to consumption and demand management. First Imagine! specifically targets startups at the early commercialization stage, primarily in Europe (EU, UK, Nordics) and Israel.
Established in 2016, First Imagine! has a distributed team with over 50 years of combined expertise in the power industry. As a member of the British Venture Capital Association and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Coalition for Action, First Imagine! is part of the European extensive network in the innovation and startup ecosystems.
First Imagine!’s goal is to help startups in the energy transition space to grow and thrive, while contributing to a more sustainable future.
About SOLAR MATERIALS
The clean-tech start-up SOLAR MATERIALS develops technologies for recycling photovoltaic (PV) modules. With the patented recycling process, all raw materials of the solar modules to be recycled can be recovered economically. The focus is particularly on the functional materials silver and silicon as well as high-quality glass. SOLAR MATERIALS thus closes the raw material cycle of photovoltaics and contributes to a holistic green energy supply.