Maana Electric was born out of the number one need of the rapidly expanding space industry: the need for energy. “Power is the biggest limitation to the growth of activities in space besides launch cost. The systems that are currently used on space vessels to generate energy are extremely expensive to install,” says founder and CEO Joost van Oorschot. “That’s where we come in.”

The company has developed in-site resource utilisation technologies that make it possible to produce solar panels with only sand (or lunar regolith) and electricity as input. “Our technology allows us to extract minerals from sand that we process and use. We are able to extract 99.98% of the materials needed for our solar panels from sand on Earth or Regolith in space.” With this simple raw material as the only necessary resource, solar panels can be produced anywhere in the solar system.

Luxembourg Space Agency support

Maana Electric presented its idea at the international Space Exploration Masters competition in 2017. It won the “Luxembourg Prize – SpaceStarters Award” handed out by the Luxembourg government together with crowd-investing platform SpaceStarters.

“Luxembourg liked our business idea,” says Mr van Oorschot, who is originally from the Netherlands. “After some further meetings with the Luxembourg Space Agency, we decided to locate our activity to Luxembourg. We quickly became part of the country’s space and start-up communities.”

We quickly became part of the country’s space and start-up communities.

Employing a team of 30 people, the start-up is receiving support from the space agency for its on-going R&D activities. The ambition is to have the system for producing solar panels up and running next year. Maana Electric is in continuous contact with launch providers and the European Space Agency, and hopes to get its technology to the Moon for the first time around 2027.

Cost-effective, locally produced, emission-free solar energy

However, the technology is not only relevant for space, but also for the production of clean, renewable energy on Earth. “Our technology is ideal for large-scale solar panel installations in the desert – in the Middle East, the US and Asia, for example – where land is cheap, sand resources are available and there is a lot of sun,” Mr van Oorschot explains. “It makes it possible for big solar panel farms to produce panels as they are needed, instead of buying them in large bulks which is very capital intensive.”

While the traditional photovoltaics production process of solar panels produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases, Maana’s production is completely emission-free. Another environmental benefit is that the solar panels are produced in the very place where they will be deployed. The production units fit within shipping containers and can easily be transported to deserts across the globe.

Luxembourg is international and neutral, with good logistics and active public support for export.

“When producing on site, we don’t have to worry about customs or logistics and the related CO2 emissions,” Mr van Oorschot points out. “This is a great advantage when tendering for big solar panel installations. Using local capabilities or locally produced goods is often beneficial for winning projects.”

Finding international clients

Maana Electric is obviously targeting a global market, with large-scale solar panel installers in deserts as its clients. The company considers Luxembourg as a good basis for finding international clients. “Luxembourg is international and neutral, with good logistics and active public support for export,” says Mr van Oorschot. “Being in a small country has made it much easier to get assistance than I have experienced in other countries.”

Image credit: Maana Electric