New durable, high-performance, fluorine-free PV backsheets

New durable, high-performance, fluorine-free PV backsheets

11:33 AM, 27th June 2017
New durable, high-performance, fluorine-free PV backsheets
PV backsheets are made using laminating technology. (File photo)

By Jan Grimberg

In February this year, DSM acquired Sunshine, a Chinese manufacturer of innovative high-performance PV backsheets based on co-extrusion technology. It has now become part of DSM, the leading player in anti-reflective and anti-soiling coatings. With the addition of the fluorine-free backsheet to its portfolio, DSM is more than ready to use all its innovative power and expertise in materials science to help take the solar industry to the next level.

Win-win collaboration

“Traditionally, PV backsheets are made using laminating technology,” explained Grimberg. “To stick the sheets together, you need to use adhesives. Sunny Zhao, the founder of Sunshine, decided it would be much more effective to use a co-extrusion process instead. In co-extrusion, all layers are created simultaneously. Combined with carefully designed polymers, this results in a very durable backsheet. DSM was impressed by this idea and started working together with Sunshine in 2016.”

“This was followed by the acquisition in February this year. DSM can add significant value to Sunshine, opening up the global market for this home-made Chinese technology. In addition, DSM’s extensive experience and expertise in polymers, material processing and materials sciences, in combination with the entrepreneurial spirit of Sunshine, will undoubtedly lead to more new and exciting solar products.”

Lowering LCOE and carbon footprint

The high-performance PV backsheet has multiple benefits, said Grimberg. “It provides extra energy output, and it is highly durable. Thanks to the adhesive-free co-extrusion process, the layers are more or less inseparable. These robust panels can deal very well with the rough circumstances in deserts, where sand erosion can play havoc with solar panels. They also have a low moisture permeation – or WVTR (water vapour transmission rate). Improved durability obviously brings down the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of the module.”

“But that’s not all. Perhaps even more importantly, we can make these high-performance panels without making use of halogens, such as fluorine. A Life Cycle Analysis has shown that our backsheet has a carbon footprint that is 30 percent lower than fluorine-based products. Furthermore, recycling the modules at the end of their useful life will be cheaper, as our backsheets are 100 percent recyclable.”

Positive market response

Market response to DSM’s new backsheet has been very positive. “The market is really interested in our high-quality products and materials,” said Grimberg. “The need for innovations to help bring down LCOE is more urgent than ever, especially given that in many markets subsidies for solar are being phased out. That’s why these parties are continuously looking for new and different ways to bring costs down. Innovative solutions such as the new backsheet can make a significant contribution to this effort.”

Long-term commitment

When looking for innovations, project developers – the parties responsible for building and managing solar parks – are particularly looking for reliable partners with a good track record who are committed to solar for the long term. “DSM has a good reputation in the materials business and decades of relevant experience,” explained Grimberg. “We’ve collected lots of relevant data over the years – and continue to do so – to make sure our innovations are based on solid research and experience in the field. As investments in solar parks are substantial, developers tend to think twice before they decide which parties to engage with. Solar is no longer a market for opportunists. It’s become a serious business that requires a long-term commitment on the part of all parties involved.”

Portfolio of innovations

DSM Advanced Solar is part of DSM, a globally operating science-based company that focuses on health, nutrition and materials. The company is active in renewable energy in a number of fields, with DSM Advanced Solar focusing specifically on developing technologies and materials that increase the efficiency, stability and sustainability of solar modules at every stage of the value chain. DSM Advanced Solar is the leading player in anti-reflective coatings. Besides its new fluorine-free backsheets, the company also recently launched a new anti-soiling coating for PV solar glass, which will bring significant benefits in terms of energy output and more cost-effective maintenance of solar parks.

Author: Jan Grimberg is Business Director at DSM Advanced Solar.

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