People in Austin, Texas pride themselves on being a forward looking island in a state dominated by a traditional ‘hydrocarbon’ industry of oil. And now it has put a stake in the ground around the future growth of low cost thin film solar.
Austin-based solar company HelioVolt has opened its first thin film solar energy factory. The 122,400 square foot facility is expected to generate 160 new jobs. Those wages are certain to support Austin’s other major industry- breakfast tacos.
Inkjet printing high efficiency solar
The factory marks the first commercial implementation of HelioVolt’s proprietary FASST reactive transfer printing process for solar thin film production. Confirmed through independent testing, FASST delivers copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells exceeding 12 percent conversion efficiency in a record setting six minutes. HelioVolt is using FASST to develop both conventional modules and next-generation building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) products for the global solar energy market.
“Clean and renewable energy technologies likely represent the single greatest economic opportunity of our generation. We at HelioVolt are proud to be contributing to job creation, market growth, energy stability and environmental sustainability—the combined benefits that makes this new clean economy a positive direction for our country,” said HelioVolt’s CEO and Founder, Dr. B.J. Stanbery.
Bias disclosure- Austin is my old home town!
[Sweet Tequila Blues by video
New solar materials captures 100% of light spectrum
Future color of solar is black, not green
Konarka opens 1GW thin film solar plant
ECD opens Michigan thin film plant-
XsunX opens thin film solar plant
Intel’s investment arm announced its first major solar investment in China with a $20 million equity investment in solar maker Trony Solar.
Solar’s Roadmap: Lowering Manufacturing Costs
The solar industry must pursue two simultaneous paths. Researchers must continue to expand efficiencies, while manufacturing engineers figure out ways to scale production and drop costs.
Intel has mastered manufacturing and specialty materials development in the semiconductor world, and its involvement in solar is welcome by most industry advocates. In June 2008 Intel spun-off SpectraWatt to manufacture PV (photovoltaic) cells for solar panels with $50 million in funding from Intel Capital and other investors. In July, Intel Capital led funding for a German thin-film solar company Sulfurcell with $35 million to expand production capacity. Intel has also invested in specialty chemicals maker Voltaix which is also working with XsunX solar startup.
New solar material captures entire light spectrum
China’s Solar is gimmmick
Rustbelt to Greenbelt, Michigan goes solar
XsunX plant closer to commercialization
SolarWorld opens Oregon plant
Helios opens Austin Texas solar plant
Researchers have demonstrated the highest efficiency to date of a lower cost method of converting sunlight into electricity patterned around photosynthesis.
Alternatives to silicon solar cells
There are many ways to make solar cells that capture light and produce electricity. One alternative to expensive traditional, but expensive, silicon based solar cells is known as dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs) that use lower cost light collecting compounds to improve performance. These systems can be used in flexible thin film solar cells.
Low cost solar cells
Swiss Resseachers developed the Gratzel cell, or dye sensitized, in the early 1990s in an effort to mimic the basic photoelectochemical process of photosynthesis. Dye Sensitized Solar Cells use cheap titanium dioxide (TiO2 ) particles coated with a dye to absorb a wide range of wavelengths given off by sunlight. University of Washington researchers have described the structure as ‘popcorn’ solar cells (Image).
The core problem of these solar cells is that the material breaks down rapidly after being exposed to sunlight. But last month Chinese and Swiss researchers reported the highest efficiency to date (9.6-10.0%) using thin film of titanium dioxide (TiO2) solar cell that retained over 90% of the initial performance after 1000 hours of full sunlight soaking at 60 °C. In September Michael Gratzel’s group reported 11.3% efficiency.
If researchers can continue to overcome the basic performance barriers, dye sensitized solar cells could lead to an era of lower cost solar energy. There are a few notable commercial applications. Earlier we posted a story of solar startup Konarka’s plan to open a 1 gigawatt manufacturing plant in 2009.
Research teams from Spain’s IMDEA Nanoscience and the University of Hamburg have developed a hybrid material using nanoparticles (quantum dots) and carbon nanotubes in an effort to create more efficient light emitting diodes and solar cells.
Why is this important to the future of energy?
While most energy analysts expect to see tremendous growth in solar based energy (thermal, photovoltaics, thin film), there is still much we do not yet know about photoconversion. It could be another decade or two before we feel the disruptive potential of commercializing nanoscale structured energy devices that offer unprecedented performance at a low cost.
European researchers have now developed a solar system tapping the electrical and light gathering properties of carbon nanotubes with quantum dots exhibit outstanding optical properties compared to organic dyes, and carbon nanotubes.
This is the third major scientific announcement in the past month from the global solar scientific community which included significant stories from US researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Ohio State University, and Asia-European teams working on low cost dye solar cells.
By Joel Greenberg
In the blur of announcements from solar companies, oil company TV commercials, and news pundits, science sometimes get lost in the conversation. But it's science that will bring us to a workable energy future and this year has seen some significant breakthroughs. MIT's Daniel Nocera announced the development of a low cost catalyst that helps in the electrolysis of water into oxygen & hydrogen. The development of Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) for solid hydrogen storage continued to evolve; Nanotechnology continues to bring promising experimental results across many energy related fields including, catalysts for fuel cells; conversion of waste heat into electricity; a new theory explaining molecular movement in polymers; and more.
Which of these scientific breakthroughs might change the commercial viability of cleaner hydrocarbons, bioenergy, renewables and advanced energy storage systems?
Continue Reading other Top 10 Energy Stories from 2008
Energy is driven by interactions of light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals.
At least, that's the simple explanation.
The closer the human mind gets to understanding and controlling quantum behavior of light and molecules, the more likely we are to enable an era of cheap abundant energy.
Now, thanks to work by a research team led by University of Toronto's Greg Scholes and Elisabetta Collini, we are a step closer to understanding (and controlling) how light moves along long carbon-based molecular chains to create an electrical charge.
Organic Electronics - Thin Film solar & OLEDs
Their research could lead to advances in the emerging field of 'organic' electronics (carbon based electronics) that support thin film solar cells and batteries, and flexible transparent OLED display screens.
The group has focused on 'conjugated polymers' as a promising candidate for building efficient organic solar cells. These long chains repeat the same molecule patterns and can be maniuplated to mimic the properties of traditional silicon based semiconductors.
When these materials absorb light, the energy moves along the molecular chain ('polymer') ending in an electrical charge.
"One of the biggest obstacles to organic solar cells is that it is difficult to control what happens after light is absorbed: whether the desired property is transmitting energy, storing information or emitting light," Collini explained. "Our experiment suggests it is possible to achieve control using quantum effects, even under relatively normal conditions."
Humans being creating Quantum-mechanical mechanisms
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a unique super-'hydrophobic' (water repelling) surface coating that 'boosts the light absorption of silicon photovoltaic cells both by trapping light in three-dimensional structures, and by making the surfaces self-cleaning allowing rain or dew to wash away the dust and dirt that can accumulate on photovoltaic arrays'.
The 'self cleaning' design mimics the water repelling surface of a lotus leaf, 'which uses surface roughness at two different size scales to create high contact angles that encourage water from rain or (desert dew) condensation to bead up and run off. As the water runs off, it carries with it any surface dust or dirt – which also doesn't adhere because of the unique surface properties'.
"The more sunlight that goes into the photovoltaic cells and the less that reflects back, the higher the efficiency can be," said C.P. Wong, Regents' professor in Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering. "Our simulations show that we can potentially increase the final efficiency of the cells by as much as two percent with this surface structure."
"A normal silicon surface reflects a lot of the light that comes in, but by doing this texturing, the reflection is reduced to less than five percent," said Dennis Hess, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "As much as 10 percent of the light that hits the cells is scattered because of dust and dirt of the surface. If you can keep the cells clean, in principle you can increase the efficiency. Even if you only improve this by a few percent, that could make a big difference."
Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) has selected Battle Creek, Michigan as the location for its new 120 megawatt (MW) solar cell manufacturing facility which is expected to begin production by the end of 2009.
The announcement is good news for the thin film- solar industry and Michigan leaders looking to capture growth in cleantech industrial jobs. Earlier, we covered similar high volume production announcements from Konarka and XsunX. And The Energy Roadmap.com’s Joel Greenberg recently released an Exclusive video interview with ECD Founder Stan Ovshinsky.
ECD is already the leading global manufacturer of thin-film flexible solar laminate products for the building integrated and commercial rooftop markets. This 265,000 square-foot facility will allow the company to expand production of its UNI-SOLAR branded thin film solar. The company retains an option to build a second 120MW facility on the same site.
Michigan economic development leaders are looking to tap growth of ‘cleantech’ or ‘green collar’ jobs often referred to by Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. ECD expects to create 350 jobs and will receive tax credits valued at $41.4
million over 20 years.
The color of solar is black, not green. And the future of the solar industry depends largely on our ability to produce and re-purpose this black piece of ‘polycrystaline’ material at a low cost.
China is now expanding its polysilicon production capacity with the hope of becoming a low cost manufacturing base for the global solar energy industry.
3 Types of Solar
The solar industry can be divided into three growth areas. ‘Solar thermal’ taps the power of the sun to heat liquid filled tubes that generate steam for electricity producing turbines. ‘Thin film’ solar is based on flexible, durable strips of plastic solar cells that can be integrated into materials used in buildings and products. And then there is the familiar (higher efficiency) ‘solar panel’ based on glass modules that convert photons into electricity. The key ingrediant in these ‘crystal’ solar panels is black polysilicon.
Chinese-Italian contract for solar wafers
The industry’s growth depends largely on the ability to expand polysilicon materials that go into solar wafers at a low cost. The key for solar panel makers is to sign long term, fixed price contracts.
China-based LDK Solar Co has announced a seven-year contract to supply multicrystalline solar wafers to Italy-based Helios Technology
Beginning in 2009, LDK Solar will deliver approximately 70 MW of multicrystalline silicon solar wafers over a seven-year period and extending through 2015.
LDK Solar’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities are located in China, with operations in Sunnyvale, California.
Image – Wikimedia
Thin film solar is coming! And the industry is already shaping up to be very global with partnerships being formed across Germany, Japan, Korea, Italy, China and the United States.
2009-11 is likely to be a very dynamic period for the first stage of growth in thin-film solar panels 'printed' on top of plastic materials. Planned production in the US, Europe and China is growing quickly with new megawatt (MW) plants coming online in the next 18 months. The biggest problem might be supply outpacing market adoption! Now we need to find enough companies and customers ready to integrate thin film in building materials like rooftops.
US-based Air Products will supply China's Best Solar Hi Tech Co., Ltd, with on-site gases and equipment to support a new thin-film photovoltaic facility in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. When the facility comes online at its full capacity, it will have an annual solar module manufacturing capacity of 330MW. Best Solar's subsidiary plants are expected to produce at a total capacity of 1GW.
Last week Italy's largest power company Enel SpA announced a joint venture with Sharp to develop 189 megawatts of power generation by the end of 2012.
Meanwhile the US and Germany appear to be hedging their bets by investing in plants in both countries.
Who says that 'cleantech' needs to be about 'energy independence'?
Globally interdependent seems the best (and most likely) path forward.
It's hard not to get excited about Thin-film solar technology!
You can produce flexible and durable rolls of plastic solar material off 'printing' machines at a fraction of the cost of glass solar panels. Thin film panels are cheap and efficient enough to make sense in building materials (e.g. rooftops) or in product casings.
The industry is global and commercial scale production plants are popping up around the world. No one region or company is likely to dominate this new part of the energy industry.
What's the problem with thin film solar?
Short lifespan of the solar material. Sunlight can actually destroy the compounds the convert photons into electrical energy.
Konarka Technologies tries to improve 'organic solar stability'
There are a number of innovative startups in the thin-film solar industry worth noting. But US-based KonarkaTechnologies is widely considered to be a rising star in the field of organic (carbon) solar technology. Earlier this year, it announced the opening of the world's first 1 Gigawatt scale production plant and its Power Plastic (TM) technology platform appears to be ready for growth.
But if Konarka hopes to remain a powerful player in this emerging industry, it must continue to advance basic science that can sustain this new low cost form of solar energy long into the future.
Yesterday Konarka announced a partnership with German research institutions to address the most fundamental problem with thin film solar - degradation of the material. The goal of the BMBF Stability Project is to increase the lifespan of organic solar cells (OSC) by combining high-quality encapsulation techniques with photoactive materials.
The BMBF Efficiency Project is expected to yield solar cells that are optimized for specific applications with efficiencies of more than 10% and are highly competitive with other photovoltaic (PV) technologies.
The thin film solar industry is going global. In the past few months we have seen manufacturing agreements that have connected companies based in the US, Italy, Japan, Korea, China and Turkey. And now we have the first major equity stake from a global energy giant Total.
Konarka partners with French oil giant
Konarka has just announced on Monday that it received $45 million in equity financing from the U.S. division of French oil and gas giant Total. The arrangement also includes R&D agreements with Total’s chemical subsidiaries (Atotech, Bostik, Hutchinson, Sartomer) to further development of the startup’s thin-film, organic solar cell technology
With this stake, Total will become the leading shareholder with a 20% equity stake. This is its first major equity stake in a thin film maker, and will expand Total's current silicon-based solar portfolio with Photovoltech and Tenesol.
Materials Science solutions for Distributed Solar Power