BioSolar's renewable backsheet for solar panels

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c-Si solar cell layers

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September 17, 2008 Currently, photovoltaic modules in solar panels employ petroleum-based plastics as a protective backing, increasing their overall carbon footprint and maintaining a reliance the fossil fuel economy. To free solar power from the uncertainties of oil prices, and to help make them a truly green power source, BioSolar has developed bio-based components that are ready to replace the backsheet, substrate and superstrate components of solar panels. The materials have a lifespan of 20-25 years, and, most importantly, they are 25% cheaper to manufacture than the plastic alternative.

The BioBacksheet was announced in August of this year, after 18 months of secretive development. Designed for crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cell manufacturers, the backsheets are manufactured by blending cellulose, produced from recycled cotton rags, with nylon produced from castor beans – the company avoided using genetically modified biomaterial, as well as crops used for food. The low melting temperatures and weak molecular structures of bio-based components have previously prevented them from replacing plastics. However, not only is BioSolar’s biomaterial resilient and long-lasting, it also replicates characteristics of petro-based plastics including electromagnetic properties, mechanical strength and dimensional stability.

The standard solar panel backsheet costs between $0.70 and $1.00 per square foot. BioSolar’s material is currently estimated to reduce manufacturing costs by 25%, and the company believes it possible to reach the 50% mark. The biomaterial can be produced using existing industrial machines, eliminating the need to purchase new manufacturing systems and lowering costs for adopters.

Daniel Lincot, of the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference, stated this year that photovoltaics can satisfy the global energy demand. BioSolar expects the market for solar panel backsheets to grow from its current value of $300 million to $1 billion by 2010. If we are witnessing the dawn of truly green power, companies like BioSolar are a reminder that continual scrutiny of every stage of the technological process can yield fantastic benefits, both economical and ecological.

Kyle Sherer

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