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Picasolar wins clean energy contest

Picasolar, a start-up from the University of Arkansas, on Monday won the MIT Clean Energy Prize for developing a technology that could improve the efficiency of solar panels and make them cheaper to produce, said the Boston utility NStar, one of the annual competition’s sponsors.

Roughly 56 teams from 38 schools entered the national competition, which was founded in 2008 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Department of Energy, and NStar to promote the development of alternative energy and energy efficiency technologies. The Picasolar team beat more than a dozen other semifinalists for the top prize of $150,000. Picasolar won an additional $100,000 from the Department of Energy.

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Trish Flanagan, president of Picasolar and a University of Arkansas graduate student, said the company’s technology fixes electron-absorbing flaws in the surfaces of silicon solar cells, helping to make the solar panel components about 15 percent more efficient, while also decreasing their cost. The technology was invented by Picasolar’s chief technology officer, Seth Shumate, also an Arkansas graduate student.

“This has been a really fun competition for us, and we’ve made some extraordinary contacts,” Flanagan said.

Bill Aulet, a senior lecturer on entrepreneurship at MIT, said he was particularly impressed by this year’s entrants, who, he said, not only presented interesting technologies but also had a clearer understanding of how they might tackle the challenges of commercializing their products.

“A lot of it is much more business savvy,” Aulet said. “Now it’s like, ‘Here’s our market and here’s how we can deal with the regulatory risk.’ ”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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