John Argo ‘04
President, Alumni Association

Alumnus John Argo ‘04 likes to joke that he launched the world’s first nanotechnology start-up funded by red wine, and there’s a great deal of truth to his tale about Bloo Solar, which is beginning to turn heads in the clean energy industry.

What we are talking about is no less than domination of the largest, fastest-growing energy market that will exist in the 21st century. We’re changing the rules and will lead the industry.

For the past four years, Argo, who is chief operating officer of Bloo Solar, and his co-founders have bootstrapped the West Sacramento solar venture on about $1 million in personal investments, some from his stake in Crystal Basin Cellars, an award-winning winery in the Sierra foothills. For Argo, Northern California boasts fertile soil for both wine and high-tech.

In recent years, the solar energy industry has grown exponentially. Last year set a high mark with 314 megawatts of new solar capacity installed in the U.S.—up 125 percent from 2006, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. A market worth just $200 million five years ago topped $2 billion last year and created 6,000 new jobs. And Wall Street has invested heavily, betting on the growing global demand for clean, renewable energy sources.

“What we are talking about is no less than domination of the largest, fastest-growing energy market that will exist in the 21st century,” said Argo, who has two decades of experience at Hewlett-Packard and Electronic Data Systems. “We’re changing the rules and will lead the industry.”

Bloo’s Solar Brush™ technology creates billions of nano-structured photovoltaic cells that are 90 percent thinner and more energy efficient than traditional thin film solar cells. Each nano “bristle” increases the lightcapturing surface area by 700 times compared to conventional cells. The result: Bloo’s technology soaks up more sunlight, producing more power.

“These tiny structures solve many problems that prevent solar cells from being economical,” Agro explained. “The idea is to create a ‘brush’ where the solar cells are 3-D ‘bristles’ rather than flat, which is  the approach everyone else takes. Our brush structure has set the world-record for light capture—it’s our competitive threat.”

What’s more, in January Bloo Solar—formerly Q1 NanoSystems—licensed the method to manufacture the nano-sized technology, inking exclusive agreements with UC Davis for jointly owned intellectual property stemming from inventions both on and off campus. The research was started by Pieter Stroeve, professor of chemical engineering and materials science, and the discoveries further developed in the company’s lab by postdoctoral researcher Ruxandra Vidu, who joined Argo as a co-founder.

“Our understanding of nanotechnology has allowed us to use old equipment in new ways, creating advantages in manufacturing and materials performance,” said Argo.

Bloo has deep roots at UC Davis. Argo met the  researchers at a mixer for students from the Graduate School of Management and the College of Engineering. His brother, Brian Argo, Bloo’s director of engineering and a company co-founder, has a master of science in chemical engineering from UC Davis and co-published a paper with Vidu. The team placed second in the 2005 Big Bang! Business Plan Competition. They have since expanded Bloo’s management, hiring president and  CEO Larry Bawden, founder of Jadoo Power, a leading portable fuel cell company.

Argo said they are deep in due diligence with potential investors and the future looks bright. “We have a ways to go,” he noted, “but when the end is written, it will be huge for us—and UC Davis.