City Welcomes Leading Edge Renewable Energy Company to Business Park

Solar Power Firm Has Big Plans for Old Polaroid Plant
By Joe Cohen Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — A company that manufactures a thin-film solar material cut ribbon Tuesday to mark its move into the former Polaroid building in the New Bedford Business Park as state and local officials touted the potential for solar energy, manufacturing and jobs in the city.
Konarka Technologies Inc. in January took over the former Polaroid building in the North End business park that recently housed Multilayer Coating Technologies. Konarka, a Lowell-based company, now employs about 15 people at the 50 Duchaine Blvd. plant and anticipates growing to 40 to 50 employees in six months, 100-plus employees in 12 to 18 months and 200 to 300 employees in three to four years. The company is privately owned and does not disclose workers’ salaries. The building is 250,000 square feet.
Konarka makes Power Plastic, a thin plastic film with layers that absorb light, transform it into electricity and send the electricity to a battery or other device. The New Bedford facility will be the company’s first full-scale manufacturing plant and marks its transition from being primarily a research operation to a manufacturing company.
The ribbon-cutting brought state and city officials to the site, including U.S. Rep. Barney Frank; Ian Bowles, the Patrick administration’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs; Daniel O’Connell, state secretary of housing and economic development; John Lushetsky, solar program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy; and Mayor Scott W. Lang.
Konarka holds more than 300 patents and includes a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. Its corporate tagline is: “Konarka builds products that convert light to energy — anywhere.” It markets its Power Plastic as being able to be attached to a variety of items, including handbags, laptops, awnings, roofing and clothing.
Rick Hess, company president and chief executive officer, said in an interview that Konarka’s thin-film solar material is differentiated from glass and silicon solar materials by a significantly lower manufacturing cost, adaptability to flexible materials such as fabrics and plastics and its ability to be manufactured at much lower temperatures using less energy. One negative versus glass or silicon solar materials is the life expectancy of Power Plastic, about five years, compared to 20 years for more traditional products. Mr. Hess said Konarka is working to extend the life expectancy of Power Plastic and believes it easily can reach 10 years.
Larry Weldon, vice president of manufacturing, said the company plans to start shipping product from the New Bedford facility by the end of the year.
Although officials praised New Bedford’s workforce and cited other factors in Konarka’s selection of the former Polaroid plant to begin full-scale manufacturing, company and other officials said a major factor in the decision to locate was the Polaroid plant and its equipment were a near perfect fit for Konarka’s manufacturing, which saved a great deal of money versus building a new plant from scratch.
The company makes a five-layer solar film that has a polyester base to which fluids are applied and then dried in stages. Konarka’s Power Plastic is more sensitive to light than are some glass and silicon products and can produce electricity from sunup to sundown and from indoor lighting.
The company grew out of UMass Lowell using photo voltaic technology developed by the late Dr. Sukant Tripathy, a polymer materials scientist, and Dr. Alan Heeger, Konarka’s chief scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2000.
The company has been funded with more than $100 million in venture capital and private equity, along with $18 million in government research grants from the U.S. and Europe. Working with New Bedford, Konarka is seeking to receive special state and local tax treatment in exchange for job creation and local investment.
At the ceremony, Howard Berke, co-founder and chairman, said it is the “best example of how government and public agencies work with venture capital.”
Rep. Frank, D-Mass., said Konarka’s investment in New Bedford is an example of “providing economic opportunity” and its use of the former Polaroid facility is symbolic of the “rebirth of this building.”
Mr. O’Connell said Konarka, with state support, has moved quickly from a “scientific breakthrough” to manufacturing.
Mr. Bowles referred to “Massachusetts heading off in a new direction.”
Mr. Lushetsky said that the Department of Energy is investing $170 million a year in solar energy and that Konarka, which has received federal funds, is an example of entrepreneurs taking risks to develop new technology.
Mayor Lang noted that 150 years ago, New Bedford was at the height of the whaling industry and supplied whale oil to much of the world. He said he was optimistic Konarka would bring hundreds of jobs to the city, and the company’s products would be part of a transformation that would “change the way we think of energy.”
Contact Joe Cohen at
October 08, 2008 6:00 AM
Source URL:

Scroll to Top
Get news from New Bedford Economic Development Council in your inbox

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact