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Silicone eyed for extending solar cell lives

Photonics Spectra
Sep 2012
Coating photovoltaic cells with liquid silicone could yield more robust, sustainable solar cells at a fraction of the cost of traditional ones.

If solar panels are to exceed life spans of 25 years, scientists must investigate various types of protective coatings to shield the solar cells from harmful environmental influences.

To help protect the fragile silicon solar cells within a panel, manufacturers have used expensive ethylene-vinyl acetate coatings. Now, researchers at Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) and Dow Corning Corp. are investigating a cheaper alternative material to protect solar cells: silicone.

Silicone is a promising material that has been used to encapsulate solar modules but, until now, has not been widely used for laminating them.


In this mechanical test stand, a researcher examines the quality of silicone-encased photovoltaic modules. Coating solar cells with silicone could produce stronger, more sustainable solar cells at a much lower cost than that of other materials.


Prototypes of silicone-laminated cells were prepared and tested in a climate chamber at low temperatures under cyclic loads. The cells were tested with a light flasher and electroluminescence imaging to detect microcracks.

In comparison with traditional solar modules, the silicone-encased solar modules were more resistant to cyclic loading of the type that panels experience in strong winds, particularly at extremely low temperatures (—40 °C).

“The study results demonstrate that silicone lamination is well suited for certain applications because the silicone protects the fragile components on the inside well and, moreover, withstands severe temperature fluctuations,” said project manager Rafal Mickiewicz.

The findings, which were published at the 26th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference, could help improve understanding of material requirements for solar modules, particularly with regard to sustainability and output, said Andy Goodwin, global science and technology manager of Dow Corning Solar Solutions.


GLOSSARY
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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