The solar photovoltaics industry is now well established in many countries and starting to make inroads in others as the need to increase renewable energy sources is acknowledged. The encapsulation and protection of the photo-active component of solar panels is critical to durability. The AMI Polymers in Photovoltaics conference aims to bring together leading polymer industry experts alongside the solar industry to discuss the optimum, cost-effective solutions for components such as encapsulants for silicon, back sheets for protection, lightweight alternative materials to glass in front sheets, new substrates for silicon deposition, sealants and adhesives. Dr Henning Wicht has been studying the solar power market for several years and will give the opening address – a market study on the challenges for the industry in the next few years. Quality control is essential in manufacturing and this will be addressed by Oerlikon Solar’s head of module technology, Dr. Ivan Sinicco. Cost-effective manufacturing is key to business success in photovoltaics: Dr Ronald Lange is looking at module design and polymer usage, while Amut (Italy) has extrusion technology for encapsulants.
Feron won a prize at this year’s solar exhibition for their new backsheet, which comprises a PET layer with coatings either side. DuPont businesses supply many different polymers for PV applications: DuPoint Teijin Films produces polyester films. Mr. Michele Vannini will discuss the loss of market share of fluoropolymers in backsheets and some of the alternatives. Renolit Belgium has integrated adhesives into backsheets to aid module manufacturing. This year’s innovations include light-stable polyurethane from BASF, which has been tested in frames for solar panels. In addition, SolarExcel in the Netherlands has developed a textured coversheet for PV panels to improve efficiency at low cost. Meanwhile Heriot Watt University has looked at enhancing polymer performance by doping with luminescent materials. The PV module manufacturer from China, Hanwha Solarone has studied the most cost effective and reliable encapsulants. Performance testing is becoming more rigorous. In France, Associate Professor Emilie Planes has worked with EDF Energy using microscopy techniques like IR and Raman to examine encapsulants during accelerated ageing. The EPFL in Switzerland has reviewed which polymers are suitable for thin film silicon encapsulation. There has been a push to test silicone materials as encapsulants, from companies like Momentive Performance Materials, MAP (France) and Traxle Solar (Czech Republic and working with Russian researchers).
Polymers are under consideration as a silicon substitute in so-called organic photovoltaics. Merck KGaA has looked at polymers for printed organic solar cells, in a project that aligns with the work of Chemnitz University of Technology. The next international conference on Polymers in Photovoltaics 2012 will take place from in April 2012 in Cologne, Germany.