Today, petroleum-based plastics are used in the production of virtually all solar cells and modules
However, the cost of these plastics has been steadily increasing due to rising oil prices, which runs counter to the industry’s effort to reduce costs to make solar energy competitive with conventional fossil fuel. Furthermore, petroleum-based plastics are not environmentally neutral.
Bio-based materials can be produced inexpensively, and because they are derived from renewable plant sources, their costs are not tied to high oil prices. In the past, conventional bio-based materials have not been successfully used in solar cell applications, due to their low melting temperature and fragile molecular structure. Conventional bio-based materials available today will not withstand most existing solar cell manufacturing processes.
A team of scientists at US based company, BioSolar have developed a low cost bio-based material that could dramatically reduce the cost of photovoltaic cells. This breakthrough material meets the manufacturing and operating requirements of solar cell systems and is a result of innovative enhancements to some widely available bio-based polymers. The tough new material will be able to offer the durability and environmental characteristics of conventional petroleum-based plastics, such as electromagnetic properties, mechanical strength, dimensional stability, and weatherability required by solar cell applications.
By toughening up inexpensive and fragile bio-based materials that can be used as the backsheet, substrate as well as superstrate, the technology will reduce the cost of solar cells, whether they are produced using crystalline silicon, amorphous silicon or other solar technologies.
The company state that when using their materials, the cost reduction over the materials being replaced can be in excess of 50%. The current market for plastic components and layers exceeds $1 billion, and grows rapidly. The estimated market for backsheet products alone is currently at $300 million.