December 01 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2011 Rating: 8 Hot
The US manufacturing base appears to be more than capable of expanding production of a very promising form of solar technology that can be integrated into building materials like rooftops.
Thin film solar (right side of roof image) based on plastic material foundations are less efficient than traditional glass-based photovoltaic panels (leftside of image), but they are much cheaper and more durable. By layering, or ‘printing’, thin film solar modules into common building and rooftop materials we can generate solar power onsite even on cloudy days.
While large utilities look to solar thermal and traditional glass based solar panels to produce large amounts of electricity, building designers and consumers are waiting for plastic based thin film solar that can be integrated into rooftops without the risk (and design issues) associated with fragile and bulky glass units.
We have covered a number of stories (below) on thin film solar startups in the US who are building megawatt scale thin film production plants in the next 18 months.
Now EPV SOLAR has announced that its new 30,000 square foot, 20 MW production facility in Robbinsville, NJ, is producing and shipping production quantities of its thin-film amorphous silicon solar modules. EPV already operates a 30 MW plant in Senftenberg, Germany.
The next step for thin film producers will be to expand partnerships with building materials and construction firms able to get products to market. Last month Michigan-based ECD Ovonic solar subsidiary Uni-Solar has signed a multi-year agreement with an Italian steel and metal materials company to build solar rooftop materials used in onsite power generation. Marcegaglia expects to introduce the low cost, durable thin film.
While it is too early to expect thin film solar panels on the shelves of Home Depot and Lowes, that day might be much closer than you think!
The Future of Energy will be based on our ability to elegantly control the interactions of light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals. And for all our engineering prowress of extracting and blowing up ancient bio-energy reserves (coal/oil), there is still so much to learn about basic energy systems from Mother Nature.
Laying Down Algae Shells for Solar Panels
Researchers from Oregon State University and Portland State University have developed a new way to make “dye-sensitized” solar cells using a 'bottom up' biological assembly processes over traditional silicon chemical engineering.
The teams are working with a type of solar cell that generates energy when 'photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity.'
Rather than build the solar cells using traditional technqiues, the team is tapping the outer shells of single-celled algae, known as diatoms, to improve the electrical output. (Diatoms are believed to be the ancient bio-source of petroleum.)
The team placed the algae on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then (removed) the living organic material, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template that is integrated with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to complete the solar cell design.
Biology's Nanostructured Shells & Bouncing Photons?
“Conventional thin-film, photo-synthesizing dyes also take photons from sunlight and transfer it to titanium dioxide, creating electricity,” said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor of chemical engineering “But in this system the photons bounce around more inside the pores of the diatom shell, making it more efficient.”
The research team is still not clear how the process works, but 'the tiny holes in diatom shells appear to increase the interaction between photons and the dye to promote the conversion of light to electricity... potentially with a triple output of electricity.'
According to the team, this is the 'first reported study of using a living organism to controllably fabricate semiconductor TiO2 nanostructures by a bottom-up self-assembly process.' So, chalk up another early win for advanced bio-energy manufacturing strategies!