By Stella Lee (PVED1@infothe.com)
What are the major products, systems or services your company provides to the solar industry?
BioSolar, Inc. develops and produces durable bio-based PV module components from renewable plant sources that equals or exceeds the performance of existing products while reducing the cost of manufacturing PV modules.
BioBacksheet, the company’s first commercial product, is a protective backing material for PV modules that replaces expensive and environmentally hazardous petroleum-based backsheets.
BioBacksheet has recently obtained UL material certification, and samples are in the hands of many PV panel manufacturers for their internal evaluation and recertification of PV panels upon the availability of last remaining UL data in the coming months.
What makes you different from your competitors? What is BioSolar’s strength?
BioBacksheet is made from green materials, does not involve hazardous manufacturing processes, and does not cause harm to the environment when discarded at the end of use.
More durable than conventional backsheets: The BioBacksheet’s monolithic (single layer) construction does not exhibit inter-layer delamination, a common problem in conventional laminated backsheets.
More cost-effective than conventional backsheets: Lower cost when compared with similar grades of conventional petroleum-based backsheets.
What are some of the changes you’ve seen recently in PV industry?
Installation-wise, Europe (currently representing over 80% of the world’s demand) is continuing to lead the PV market, but Japan/United States are starting to gain some ground. Production, however, is growing much faster in Asia (mostly China and Taiwan─currently produces more than half of the world’s supply) due to generous political incentives and subsidies there. As the cost of Chinese labor moves higher, however, the trend may slow down.
Compared with 2010, do you expect growth in the global market volume of PV power?
Though there are factors that may drive down the PV growth, I believe the existing overcapacity will further reduce PV panel prices in the coming years. Reduced costs of PV panel will fuel more demand especially as the cost of conventional fuel moves higher.
When do you expect to see grid parity?
5 to 10 years depending on where you are. Until we reach the grid parity, government incentives will play a very important role. Factors such as reducing government incentives (as in Germany) and economic downturn (all over the world) will delay the timing of grid parity. Public’s fear of building new nuclear power plants will shorten the time to grid parity, on the other hand.
How will the solar industry look in 5 years from now? And your company?
Government incentives currently play important roles in the growth of PV solar energy. Unfortunately, these incentives will eventually go away at some point of time in the future. For example, significant FiT (Feed-in Tariffs) reduction and new rules will be problematic to the growth of European PV industry going forward.
The key to continuing PV solar energy expansion is the ability to compete directly with conventional fossil fuels. Reducing the cost of solar PV generating electricity is the most important of all, but also important is reducing environmental impact of solar PV (both the manufacturing and disposal of PV panels after use).
The manufacturing and disposal of current solar energy products is not as environmentally-friendly as the renewable energy they produce. The process of manufacturing solar panels remains predominantly petroleum-dependent and involves a surprising number of toxic chemicals.
In addition to providing lower cost and durable BioBacksheet, BioSolar’s greener component also help PV module manufacturers to save money by reducing risk of future toxic waste handling and disposal. BioBacksheet is petroleum-free, non-toxic, and will not involve toxic manufacturing process currently used in manufacturing conventional backsheets.
BioSolar is committed to continued development and commercialization of durable bio-based PV panel components from renewable sources that equals or exceeds the performance of existing products while reducing the cost of manufacturing PV modules.
Could you explain more about how ‘green’ can BioBacksheet be comparing to the conventional petroleum-based backsheets? How ‘bad’ is it when the petroleum-based backsheets are produced or discarded?
The solar industry is lagging in ensuring that the manufacturing and disposal of solar energy products is as environmentally-friendly as the renewable energy they produce. The upstream process of manufacturing solar panels remains predominately petroleum-dependent and involves a surprising number of toxic chemicals. I believe we must get serious about life-cycles of all the materials that go into PV panel─from mining to manufacturing to recycling to disposal.
The majority of protective backsheets in today’s solar modules are made of Polyvinyl Fluoride (PVF). It is solvent cast in Dimethylacetamide (DMAC), a hazardous chemical, and it releases hydrogen fluoride, another hazardous chemical when overheated. These toxic components are extremely hard to recycle and must be buried in the ground. Our proprietary bio-based backsheets are petroleum-free and non-toxic. They match or exceed the performance of their conventional counterparts and can be recycled or biodegraded in landfills.
In terms of cost and efficiency, do you have certified results? How durable is BioBacksheet? How much cost can it save?
Cost─BioBacksheet is currently offered at approximately 15% lower price point than that of conventional Tedlar-Polyesther-Tedlar backsheets. The pricing is based on relatively expensive contract manufacturing that we are currently using. We expect the price will be even lower when we can produce at much higher volume.
Efficiency─We have a 3rd party certified results stating that BioBacksheet has 70% higher thermal conductivity (the ability to dissipate heat) than conventional backsheet materials. We do not have a 3rd party certified results on the efficiency yet, but those who are familiar with PV panel efficiency knows that the ability of PV panel to dissipate heat quicker (thus keeping the PV panel cooler) will increases PV efficiency. Every 1 degree C decrease in operating temperature will generally mean approximately 0.5% efficiency gain.
Durability─PV module manufacturers want durable PV components regardless of whether they are green or not. Long term structure testing per UL 1703 (U.S. market) and IEC 61215 (off shore market) reveals that BioSolar’s BioBacksheet is more durable than backsheets on the market today in addition to being green.
In particular, BioBacksheet’s appearance and function did not degrade noticeably even after 3,000+ hours of damp heat oven test (85% relative humidity, 85 degree C) which is far more stringent than 1,000 hour damp heat oven test currently required by UL 1703. Another important reason for BioBacksheet’s impressive durability is its monolithic (single layer) construction that eliminates the possibility of inter-layer de-lamination, a common problem in conventional laminated backsheets.
Could you tell me more about the porcess of manufacturing BioBacksheet?
Two main ingredients of BioBacksheet are bio-based polyamide resin derived from Castor Beans and a special form of recyclable mineral additive that is also environmentally safe. All ingredients are compounded during the extrusion process to form a unique and highly durable PV backsheet film.
Please explain the figure above.
The top picture illustrates the backsheet which is a bottom later of the PV panel protecting the cell. This is the first product (BioBacksheet) currently being offered to c-Si PV panel manufacturers. C-Si PV panels currently cover over 70% of the world PV production.
The middle picture illustrates a special form of backsheet used as a substrate where layers of PV materials are deposited to form a thin-film PV cell structure─not yet available as a commercial product.
The bottom picture illustrates a bio-based top layer (superstrate) that will replace the glass front─not yet available as a commercial product.
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