Bioplastics Improve Reliability and Reduce Cost of Solar Cells

As we all know, the production of solar energy from photovoltaic cells can be used to power our homes and appliances without producing greenhouse gasses which pollute the air.  No fossil fuels are burned in the process of creating solar power, but one thing that many people don't take into account is the fact that the plastics which are used to make much of the solar cells themselves are usually made from petrochemicals which are derived from petroleum, in other words crude oil.  Another current disadvantage of solar power, after taking into consideration the capital costs of the photovoltaic cells themselves, is the higher cost per kilowatt than power producd by traditional fossil fuels.

A California-based company has used what it describes as "breakthrough technology" in its that aim to overcome these disadvantages.  BioSolar is using plant sources to create renewable bioplastic materials to be used to replace petroleum based components in solar cells.  Not only will this produce a more environmentally friendly solution, but BioSolar claims that the materials and processing techniques used will also be able to produce a biological-based plastic which is less expensive yet will have the same or even better durability than petroleum based plastics. 

With this aim of making individual people and also companies both more environmentally friendy and financially more well-off, Biosolar is just about the begin shipping its flagship product called BioBacksheet to manufacturers of end-use solar energy products.  This will be used to replace the back-sheet component of a conventional photovoltaic module.  The back-sheet is the bottom layer of a solar module.  Its function is to provide environmental protection and to give the proper electrical environment so that the module can function correctly as a solar cell.  It also provides mechanical integrity for the photovoltaic cell. 

BioBackheet is the first solar UL safety certified solar panel backsheet in the world to be made from renewable materials.  The materials which Biosolar are using for this to make it come from substances containing cellulose, mainly from recycled cotton and also a type of Nylon 11, also known as Polyamide 11, which is a bioplastic derived from castor bean oil. An important and interesting advatage of Nylon 11 is that it in not biodegradable. This helps with the aim of creating bioplastic components which will last as long as traditional petroleum-based plastic and will achieve similar or even better durability without deteriorating in the environment.

Tests equivalent to 10 years of solar exposure have proved that BoBacksheets is significantly more resilient to exposure to damaging Ultraviolet radiation than traditional multi-layer laminated backsheets.  The BioBacksheet samples showed no detectable changes in response to the tests, whereas traditional multi-layer backsheet laminates usually suffer degradation of the adhesives which are employed to hold the layers together, thus heightening the chance of inter-layer de-lamination which can result in the loss of the solar panel’s hermetic seal which is used to protect the unit against moisture.

If this all isn't enough to give BioBacksheet some impressive green credentials, it also has a high thermal conductivity.  This allows heat to be drawn away quickly from the solar cells, which can result in an increase in power output of the whole solar panel compared to those using backsheets made from conventional plastics.

Besed on this interesting and impressive news I'm looking foward to seeing what the future holds for bioplastics and how they can be used to help us all live sustainable lives.