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PV modules potentially more durable with Silicones

Posted: 04 Jul 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Silicone? PV modules? solar energy?

Solar power has always been one of the best options in delivering power while avoiding risks to environment and climate. However, producing photovoltaic (PV) modules is still an expensive venture. Longevity and durability has always been a concern in producing these modules. In an attempt to answer these concerns, Fraunhofer researchers in the USA are now investigating materials which can be used to protect solar cells from environmental influences.

Cost has always been a barrier in producing successful solar energy technologies. As long as solar power is still more expensive than energy extracted from fossil fuels, PVs will not be competitive in the open market. The only way to get solar energy to be more widely accepted is to make it cheaper. To achieve this goal, engineering teams around the world have started to search for new technologies and production methods to make cells and modules cheaper, more efficient, more durable and reliable.

One of the materials with the potential to make cheaper solutions is Silicone. It is a highly unusual substance, being neither inorganic crystal nor organic polymer but related to both. While PV modules have been encapsulated with silicones, they were not widely used for laminating solar modules. Lamination is a protective coating that surrounds the fragile silicon wafer. Today most manufacturers of photovoltaic cells use ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA).

In determining silicone's viability as a replacement for ethylene-vinyl acetate, researchers from Fraunhofer and Dow Corning Corporation collaborated. The scientists coated photovoltaic cells with liquid silicone. "When the silicone hardens, it encases the cells; the electronic components thus have optimal protection," explained project manager Rafal Mickiewicz.

Prototypes were constructed from the silicone-laminated cells. These photovoltaic modules were then tested in a climate chamber at low temperatures and under cyclic loads. Afterwards the module performance was tested with a light flasher. Researchers also used electro-luminescence-imaging for the detection of micro cracks. Results of these tests were then compared with conventional solar modules. The team found proof that the silicone-encased PV modules were more resistant to cyclic loading, the type modules experience in strong winds with sub-zero temperature. The tests have already been published at the 26th European Photovoltaics Solar Energy Conference in 2011.

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