WASHINGTON, D.C. — Start-up Solexant of Sunnyvale, Calif. wants to develop inexpensive inorganic photovoltaic cells that harvest more energy than their conventional counterparts.

Mayaterials Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich., is trying to obtain solar grade silicon from agricultural by-products.

Sound crazy? The U.S. Department of Energy doesn't think so. The agency is investing more than $800,000 each into the two companies, well as millions more for 23 other groups. The funding opportunity is worth $21.7 million.

The DOE selected the 25 next generation photovoltaic projects in its bid to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional electricity by 2015. Although nineteen of the projects originate at universities that include top-tier institutions such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, companies such as Wakonda Technologies of Fairport, N.Y., scored a slice, too.

DOE will give Wakonda nearly $900,000 for apply low-cost conventional thin-film manufacturing techniques to the production of large area, high-efficiency multi-junction photovoltaics. The project's total price tage is $2.1 million.

"These projects help create a pipeline for the development of next generation solar technology," DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman said last week. "Our goal is to make solar power a more mainstream source of energy -- to increase energy security and maintain America's competitive edge.