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21 August, 2012 - 08:00 By Tony Quested

Eight19 to raise over £5m after spinning out Indigo

Field trials involving Eight19’s solar panels have begun in South Sudan

Eight19, the Cambridge UK CleanTech pioneer, has spun out its Indigo ‘pay-as-you-go’ solar technology into a newly-formed company – Azuri Technologies Ltd.

Simon Bransfield-Garth, who will be CEO of both Eight19 and Azuri, revealed to Business Weekly that investment “north of £5 million” was being sought to fund commercialisation for both businesses.

Talks are already underway and Bransfield-Garth felt the final make-up of backers could be international in profile – reflecting the young group’s outstanding global success in under two years.

He said Eight19 would concentrate on developing its printed plastic solar technology while Azuri focused on expanding the Indigo product family and market reach.

Based on Cambridge University IP and Business Weekly’s reigning CleanTech Company of the Year, Eight19 has split the businesses because of what it calls the “unprecedented growth of Indigo.”

Both companies will remain in Cambridge and continue their close working relationship while also maintaining links with Sir Richard Friend’s celebrated team at Cavendish Laboratory. The university is an investor in Eight19.

Eight19, which was established in September 2010 to develop research from the university into a new generation of printed plastic solar modules, has over the last year developed Indigo, a revolutionary pay-as-you-go product range for off-grid customers in emerging markets.

Indigo has sparked the world's imagination, including winning the World Business and Development Award at the RIO+20 UN Climate Conference in June and the product is currently deployed in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, South Sudan, Uganda and South Africa. Bransfield-Garth said new territories were set to come online.

By combining solar and mobile phone technology, Azuri’s Indigo product family enables users to benefit from clean renewable energy and simultaneously reduce their energy spend by as much as half. Azuri’s objective is to bring power at scale to off-grid customers worldwide, providing basic needs that are regarded as routine in developed countries.

Some 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity and are forced to burn fossil fuels for basic needs such as lighting. Historically the high up-front costs of solar have prohibited wider uptake of small solar systems in many parts of Africa and Asia.

Indigo enables solar electricity to be delivered as a service using scratchcards for payment. Users begin with a system capable of eight hours of fume-free lighting for two rooms and mobile phone charging, whilst immediately cutting their weekly spend on kerosene and mobile phone charging fees.

Customers are able to grow their Indigo system over time to deliver lighting, media, communications and information, enabling families to access progressively more electricity and ultimately reach full home electrification.

Bransfield-Garth said Azuri would also act as a pathfinder to global markets for Eight19’s large, lightweight and flexible solar panels which, because of high-speed manufacture and low fabrication costs, are significantly cheaper to deliver and install than traditional panels.

Earlier this year, Eight19 began organic solar trials in Africa and it is envisaged that real-world data will accelerate and facilitate the product development.

Bransfield Garth said: “We are very excited about the future for organic electronics with Eight19 and for the continued success of Indigo with Azuri.

“With a fraction of the embedded energy of conventional solar modules, printed plastic solar modules are particularly well suited to consumer and off-grid applications. We are transforming people’s lives.

“It sounds staggering that there are plans to launch humans on Mars by 2030 but that at that date there will still be one billion people on this planet without electricity despite escalating take-up of products such as ours.

“The fact is that population growth is outstripping the ability to supply enough electricity to meet the demand; people on the grid are increasing their usage at a rapid rate and the infrastructure is struggling to keep pace.

“Indigo developed a life of its own and it felt like we were running two distinct businesses so it was clear the time had come to spin it out. We became commercial very swiftly with Indigo, shipping first products last September – just a year after Eight19 was launched.

“We expect another six African countries to adopt the technology by the end of this year. There are also opportunities in India and South East Asia and with island economies like the Philippines, Indonesia, some Pacific Islands and even the Caribbean.”

Field trials involving Eight19’s solar panels have also been started in South Sudan to gather early data although it may be two years before full commercial rollout.

Headcount at the Science Park group is around 13 people but working towards respective rollouts, that number is likely to swell to around 50 staff across both companies. The group has global partners and they are also taking on new people at a fair rate, said Bransfield-Garth.

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