Nines Photovoltaics: Irish Company Making Solar Energy More Sustainable

Nines Photovoltaics is an Irish company, founded in 2010, which aims to improve the manufacturing process for solar cells with a new sustainable and scalable dry etching technology. The Dublin-based firm recently received a European Commission Framework Programme 7 funding award of €1.2 million to continue its development of this technology, which requires significantly smaller quantities of water than prevailing production methods for solar cells.

Nines Photvoltaics was founded in 2010 as an offshoot of semiconductor manufacturer Nines Engineering. Nines’ founder and CEO Edward Duffy explains that the overlap in technology between semiconductor and solar cell production, combined with a “very attractive” growing market for solar energy led him down the photovoltaic route.

“I always wanted to do something in the solar space, particularly because of the convergence between the semiconductor manufacturing and the solar sell manufacturing processes.

“I felt that there was an opportunity to look at the manufacturing technologies and maybe try and add value in that space because a lot of the processing technologies that are used are quite mature and not really specifically designed for solar cell manufacturing, but just adopted from semiconductor manufacturing.”

Nines’ dry etching technology can process silicon wafers at atmospheric pressure with no requirement for the vacuum chambers which are typically used in semiconductor manufacturing for dry etching.

“It’s much cheaper technology to purchase, in the first place, and to run. It will deliver much higher throughput so it’s specifically designed for solar cell manufacturing where you will need to be running wafers at 4,000 or 5,000 wafers per hour as opposed to a semiconductor plant which can get away with maybe 10 or 15 wafers per hour.”

Nines have collaborated with the Fraunhofer ISE institute, “probably the best known and the leaders in their field”, for the purposes of trialling their technology in their pilot production plant in Freiburg, Germany.

Together with the Fraunhofer Institute and, “a consortium together of other SME’s that have kind of bolt-ons or add-ons to machines that are used in this space”, Nines made its successful application for the FP7 funding for a pilot programme which will commence in the Autumn.

“What it will allow us to do, is it will allow us to put our first prototype machine or pilot production machine into a working pilot production plant and actually produce solar cells, so that’s really very important for us.”

Despite the likelihood of peak oil supply having been reached, and the massive potential of solar energy, it accounts for only a tiny proportion of energy supply internationally, but with there being, “six or seven hundred times more [energy] than we’re ever going to need there”, Edward is confident that solar cell production is a growth area, and the sustainability offered by Nines’ manufacturing process will place it at the forefront of the photovoltaics space.

“One of the big things that has been identified when we talk to our customers is the consumption of water is a major part of it [the manufacturing process], and it’s not just the cost, it’s the amount of water and the facilities that need to be built and implemented in terms of infrastructure in a factory to bring the water to the machines and to the solar cells.

“Really, it’s a gate to the way these factories can scale, and be sustainable in the future, so it’s not just the cost, per se, of one technology versus the other, it’s also the sustainability and being able to scale production.

“To make a proper penetration into the energy market, you really need to look at innovation in the manufacturing space, so at the moment we estimate that our technology is going to be a little bit cheaper than the current technology, but when it comes to scale, it has much more potential for scale, and as you scale of course, you will be able to get much further cost reductions.”

Nines Photovoltaics is currently engaged in a private fundraising round, seeking a further €2 million, which, Edward hopes, will allow it “to execute on this FP7 programme”.

JLizard’s Logentries: Reducing the Time Taken to Analyse Log Files via the Cloud

JLizard is a Dublin startup that provides cloud-based log management as a service for large enterprise systems. Its product, Logentries, collects, stores, analyses, and visualises the log entries from these large software systems, ensuring that the customer can monitor the functioning of their system, and quickly identify and eradicate any flaws that may be present.

JLizard is a spin-out from UCD, where company founder Trevor Parsons completed his PhD in the area of, “detecting design flaws in large enterprise applications from a performance perspective.”

Having initially considered this space to be one that was overcrowded, Trevor refrained from commercialising his PhD research at the time and took up a research position in conjunction with IBM and UCD building lab management technologies, especially for pre-production test environments.

“The systems, during the test would produce massive amounts of log data, and at the end of the test run management would come and knock on the door of the test team and say “has this test passed or failed?”, and the test team would turn around and say, “give us three days or five days to look at the log data and we’ll tell you.”

“So we developed a technology that would allow them to instantly understand, as soon as the tests were completed, whether the test data was clean or not. And if it wasn’t clean, they could figure out within minutes what type of events had occurred that were problematic, so were there errors in the system, were there warnings in the system, when did they occur and what was the distribution of those events?”

Following on from this project, Trevor and his co-founder Viliam Holub developed JLizard’s Logentries log management service.

“Essentially it’s useful for any company that has a customer-facing critical system, a system that is critical for the business,” explains Trevor.

“Any company with a website that they’re doing high volume transactions on, any company that has internal systems that are running their business, loses a lot of money when that system goes down.

“While we had developed the original technology for test environments, it can be applied, and is very much applicable, for live systems. So that’s what we’re focusing on right now, and really where we’re focusing is on day to day operations of these systems.”

As an illustration of the problem that JLizard aims to fix, Trevor gives a simple example of a large company with a critical IT infrastructure trying to manage log data manually, a daunting prospect.

“Any large organisation, say with over 1,000 employees, is producing terabytes of log data per month. That equates to about 100,000 events per second in your logs, so if someone has to manually open a log file of that size, they can’t because they’re so big. Then they have to gather them, correlate them, and trace through them, so it’s almost impossible to identify trends or particular events in that data unless you’re actually using a log management solution.”

The technology has three main identifiable use cases. The first is the predictive element, whereby through close, and real-time monitoring of a system’s logs, the technology can predict a potential crash before it happens, preventing system downtime, which Trevor describes as, “a huge cost saver for companies.”

“If you’re Amazon.com and you’ve a huge amount of online transactions, as soon as your system goes down, your shopfront is closed, you’re losing money.”

The other main use case is for situations where something does go wrong with the system. If it is not possible to predict and prevent downtime, the next priority is to resolve the problem as soon as it arises. In a large enterprise system, the collation and analysis of all the data across many different software elements presents a significant barrier to a swift diagnosis and resolution of the problem. Logentries will, says Trevor, speed up this process.

“Instead of having to grab log data from different systems across their whole IT infrastructure, they can simply use a real time monitoring solution and actually visualise in real time. So if there is a problem they can go immediately to their log data and they have a much more coherent view of that so they can very quickly diagnose the issue.”

The final area in which Logentries can be used is one that the JLizard team, “didn’t really design it for.”

“A lot of people are using it from a business perspective, where they’re trying to understand what’s happening in their system rather than just trying to just keep their system up. They’re trying to understand how many transactions they did today, or how many failed registrations did this system have today? So they’re using it from an almost business operations perspective to try and understand the types of activity happening in their system as well.”

JLizard is currently resident in NovaUCD’s incubation centre and has previously participated in the National Digital Research Centre’s LaunchPad programme, which Trevor describes as, “really, really useful”.

As JLizard takes Logentries out of private beta, and launches to market, the connections made through NovaUCD have proven invaluable.

“[At NovaUCD] you’re opening yourself up to a community in terms of customers, and even by talking to the different guys in here, you usually find a lot of leads out there, rather than being stuck in an office somewhere where you’re removed from that sort of environment.”

Having trialled the product with a number of large multinationals over the past twelve months, and gotten, “some really good feedback from some really big companies,” JLizard has begun to convert some of these trials into customers. Logentries is now available under a software as a service model, bringing years of research to commercial fruition.

Naoise Nunn talks about Mindfield

Mindfield is an international festival of ideas organised by Naoise Nunn who is originally from Kilkenny but now lives in Oranmore, Galway. The most recent event took place in Merrion Square, Dublin and had more than 5,000 visitors over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Mindfield has four main themes or areas; culture, technology, politics and inspiration. As Naoise explains, “It is about having the big public conversation about where we are at and where we are going and so on. The common thread is that the people are expressing ideas, coming up with ideas, trying to innovate, trying to get us out of the bind that we are in.”

The genesis of Mindfield began with a political cabaret that Naiose runs called Leviathan and is modeled on the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in Hay-on-Wye, Wales and the TED talk series.

He set Leviathan up in 2003 as a very informal, interactive debate combined with entertainment. in the form of satire, film and comedy. Three years later he was invited to go down to the Electric Picnic and do Leviathan at the festival in a tent.

“Obviously, Leviathan is just one show and we ended up programming the tent for the weekend. The next year we had two tents. The year after that it was eight. Mindfield developed into being a festival within a festival — a spoken word forum for ideas and so on.”

Naoise had been thinking for some time about spinning Mindfield out on its own and make it an urban festival in a park. He says that he could not have picked a better location.

“Here we are in Merrion Square, right in the centre of the City. At one end you have the parliament, you’ve got the Arts Council, you’ve got the Goethe institute, you’ve got the Institute of Architects. There’s also Oscar Wilde’s house and the American College. It is the cultural hub of Dublin and of the country so it is the ideal location for it.”

Based on the success of this event, Naoise says, there will definitely be a Mindfield international festival of ideas taking place next year.

You can also view a video report which highlights the participation of the hackerspaces of Ireland at the Mindfield event and has an interview with Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, the inventor of Sugru.