Arizona is regularly selected for weathering testing of photovoltaic materials and modules owing to its dry, sunny climate. It is also one of the optimum locations for solar energy farming. In view of this, the next AMI international conference on Plastics in Photovoltaics 2012 will be held in Phoenix, AZ, USA. Appropriately, the event starts with a review from Professor Dauskardt of Stanford University on the challenges for plastics in photovoltaics, followed by Solaria describing research data from polymer aging studies. This conference provides the ideal opportunity to review the latest developments in polymer materials for solar applications including back sheets, front sheets, and encapsulants, alongside advances in manufacturing technology. Encapsulants are critical for protecting the silicon component. EVA is the most commonly used – the Fraunhofer CSP in Germany has looked at alternative methods of crosslinking the polymer while KraussMaffei Berstorff has developed new equipment for extrusion and sheeting this material. There are alternative polyolefin materials developed by the Dow Chemical Company. Long-term durability of renewable energy technologies is critical to their establishment in the marketplace. Both BASF and Imerys have developed additives to improve polymer performance in photovoltaics. In terms of measurement, Atlas Material Testing Technology is a leader in the field of weathering. Insurers are looking for certification of modules before agreeing premiums. There are now attempts to reach harmonization of global standards between the different certifying bodies, such as IEC (represented here by Sunset Technology) and UL. The Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy in the USA has also looked at the property requirements for PV modules. Meanwhile, TUV, which also provides certification, has become so concerned about fake products entering the market that it is developing a “fingerprinting” system of authentication.
The latest innovations include the SBM Solar modules, which are commercialized no-glass structures, and durable polymer films from the 3M Company. As conditions for solar panels vary around the planet and in outer space, so requirements for modules vary. Evonik Industries has looked at backsheets for the harsher conditions. Green means totally green for Biosolar, which has generated biobased backsheets. Meanwhile, Daikin America has continued a study comparing the performance of different backsheet materials, and Coveme is questioning whether it is necessary to use fluoropolymers. Solvay Specialty Polymers supplies into this industry and has a range of suitable plastics.