One of the problems with solar energy has been the cost. Installing solar panels represents a significant up-front cost, which may take years to recover through the savings on electricity bills. Another problem, as pointed out by Dr. David Lee, CEO of BioSolar, is that while solar energy is a green alternative, the manufacturing of solar panels still depends on petroleum and involves a number of toxic chemicals.BioSolar, a start-up alternative energy company based in California, may have a solution that can help to solve both problems.
BioSolar has developed a technology to produce components for solar panels from bio-based, renewable plant sources. The primary material is a durable polyamide resin made from castor beans. The backsheets in solar panels have traditionally been made with polyester, which is petroleum-based, and Tedlar films, which contains dimethylacetamide, a toxic chemical, which when heated also releases hydrogen fluoride, another hazardous chemical. The components that BioSolar has created are made with bio-based polymers. This takes the petroleum and the hazardous chemicals out of the process. These polymers have been strengthened to meet the thermal and durability requirements of PV solar panels.
BioSolar claims that its bio-based components are cheaper that traditional components and can be used in conventional solar panel manufacturing processes, so manufacturers do not need to incur the capital cost of converting or modifying their machinery. BioSolar has designed its bio-based components to accommodate the two principal types of solar modules – traditional crystalline silicon and thin film.
The company currently has a commercial line of BioSolar Backsheets designed for crystalline silicon solar panels and is doing the research and development for a substrate for thin film panels. BioSolar also plans to develop a transparent, bio-based superstrate to replace the glass or other non-bio-based polymers used as the top layer on solar cells. The company also plans to develop a bio-based resin that can be used in injection molding to produce the plastic for the housing and packaging components of solar panels and arrays.
As reported on Business Wire, in May 2010, the company announced the start of high volume commercial production and sales of its backsheets. Dr. David Lee indicated that BioSolar had been demonstrating the backsheet to major solar panel manufacturers during the past month and indicated that they were excited about the product’s high durability and performance compared to other backsheets on the market. According to Dr. Lee, the company has received orders for large quantities of the backsheet for full scale trials in production lines.
Dr. Stanley B. Levy, Chief Technology Officer of BioSolar indicates that in addition to the cost effectiveness of the product and the use or renewable materials, their backsheet has another advantage compared to conventional backsheets. BioSolar’s backsheet has a single-layer construction so it doesn’t de-laminate like conventional backsheets that are laminated.
BioSolar expects strong growth in the solar panel market, fueled in large part by rapid industrialization in China and India. The company estimates that the current market for solar panel components exceeds $3 billion and is growing rapidly, with a $1 billion market just for backsheets. BioSolar is counting on the performance, renewable aspect, and cost competitiveness of its products to gain a share of that market.
2010 Solar Company Scorecard Underscores Need for Greener Solar Production Methods, Says BioSolar – Business Wire
BioSolar Begins Sales of Commercial Grade BioBacksheet – Business Wire
BioSolar Inc. – Yahoo Finance