Despite being less expensive to produce and friendlier for the environment, bio-based materials have been avoided by solar cells manufacturers in the past, due to their low melting temperature and fragile molecular structure, which simply couldn’t withstand most existing solar cell manufacturing processes. By applying “innovative enhancements” to bio-based polymers, BioSolar scientists say they have succeeded in creating tough enough materials whose features can be matched against conventional petroleum-based plastics – in durability, electromagnetic properties, mechanical strength, dimensional stability, and the “weatherability” required by solar cell applications. Moreover, the bio-based polymers used in the process are more widely available, and therefore, relatively inexpensive.
The company’s proprietary line of backsheets, which is based on the new technology, is designed specifically for use in the common crystalline-silicon solar cells and is already available in rolls of film for direct use in lamination and roll-to-roll assembly systems. Backsheets, which are traditionally made from petroleum-based film, are in essence a protective covering widely used in the back of modern photovoltaic solar cells. According to BioSolar, their current “BioBacksheet” line delivers up to 25% reduction in cost compared to its petroleum-based counterpart.
BioSolar says its non-food, plant-based materials can be used directly in conventional manufacturing systems, such as injection molding and thin-film roll-to-roll. The same technology can be applied to produce the superstrate layer and the substrate layer as well as module and panel components. “We have demonstrated that functional photovoltaic backsheets can be produced from renewable resources,” said BioSolar’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Stan Levy. “We believe that the BioBacksheet is a viable alternative to backsheets currently in use. Not only is this product produced from sustainable and renewable resources, but is expected to be more cost effective than the current backsheets.”
Lee says the major advantage of BioSolar’s breakthrough technology is its low cost, which, unlike that of conventional photovoltaic products, does not depend on oil prices.
“With the plastics industry undergoing price increases of up to 40% for petroleum-based plastics, we believe that the cost savings offered by our BioBacksheet product will accelerate manufacturers’ adoption of our product into their photovoltaic modules,” he said. “The savings will reduce the final cost per watt of solar electricity by allowing manufacturers to lower the cost of their finished product without being impacted by the rising cost of petroleum.” Lee added that the company hopes its breakthrough technology will soon be accepted as the standard for the backsheet component of today’s various thin-film photovoltaic modules.
Q: Could you elaborate on the technology behind the bio-based materials and their manufacturing process?
Q: What unique characteristics of cotton and castor beans led you to base bio-materials’ development upon them?
Q: How does a bio-based solar cell compare performance-wise to its traditional petroleum-based counterpart, in particular when it comes to its efficiency and durability?
Q: How do you see BioSolar position itself in the future of photovoltaic industry?