Photovoltaic materials and manufacturing

Manufacturing costs are being driven down by fierce global competition and it is vital to find the most efficient production technology and best components to build a viable future for the photovoltaic industry.

The solar power industry is steadily expanding worldwide providing vital energy resources and low carbon technology, including electricity supplies to remote regions where the grid is not available. Reliable materials are vital for the 25-year target lifespan and this includes the polymer components that encapsulate the silicon, the backsheets that prevent ingress of moisture and give protection from the environment, adhesives, sealants and front sheets that all play a role in securing long-term integrity. Applied Market Information (AMI) is bringing the industry together in the US to review the latest developments: Plastics in Photovoltaics 2013 will take place on September 10-11 at the Hilton City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. The solar power market in the US will be reviewed by Vanguard Energy Partners.

Some of the toughest climate conditions occur in the desert of Arizona so the State University has undertaken the study of solar polymer materials in this harsh climate. The overall fire performance of modules on roofs is the focus of the Underwriters Laboratories UL and insurers such as FM Approvals have their own parameters. The encapsulant protects the silicon material from moisture and other environmental factors. EVA is the most commonly used polymer and Specialized Technology Resources (STR) has looked at laboratory UV exposure testing compared to real-life conditions. There are alternatives to EVA including silicone polymers from Momentive Performance Materials.

Manufacturing costs are being driven down by fierce global competition and it is vital to find the most efficient production technology and best components to build a viable future for the photovoltaic industry. There is an exciting development from Sandia National Laboratories, which has developed a microsystems-enabled photovoltaic (MEPV) solar cell combined with a microlens array concentrator in a robust module package that can be produced using existing technology. In Detroit, Power Panel is producing a unique hybrid PV and thermal (PVT) collector using EPP foam and a new encapsulation technique. Meanwhile, the University of Akron is working on organic photovoltaics where polymer replaces silicon to generate power.

There are new sheets coming into the marketplace, tested for UV resistance and damp heat performance. The backsheet company Krempel is taking an active part in reviewing and developing performance parameters, and Daikin and Coveme have compared materials in accelerated UV exposure tests. Tomark Industries has studied the backsheet market to compare structures and Sealed Air has coextruded sheets. DuPont was the earliest supplier of PV materials and DuPont Teijin supplies polyester films. The raw material suppliers include Evonik Industries and Solvay Specialty Polymers, and equipment suppliers include Amut and Plasmatreat.

Solar photovoltaic manufacturing is an established industry and at the same time it is looking for innovations to cut the cost per Watt of production, Plastics in Photovoltaics 2013, September 10-11 in Philadelphia provides a debating point for materials, testing and technology.

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