Chems profit from the sun

Clean energy equates to profitability for several chemical companies. It seems more so when it comes to the solar market where the race is on to produce the cheapest and most efficient photovoltaic materials.

For example, Germany-based Evonik is really giddy about the bright prospect of solar market in Europe. The company said it has been monitoring this market when twenty years ago, solar energy users were dismissed as visionaries of an alternative lifestyle. Today, they are seen as smart trendsetters.

“Residents who have solar collectors on their roofs can bask in the silent envy of their neighbors, not least when the electricity bill arrives.”

Evonik and its joint venture partner Solar World just started their new solar silicon plant in Rheinfelden, Germany, which uses Evonik’s energy-saving production process. In Evonik’s new process, raw silicon metal is used to produce trichlorosilane, which is then converted to gaseous monosilane, and decomposed into silicon and hydrogen, at temperatures above 600°C.

The new process will also said to reduce the cost factor and supply bottleneck of solar silicon wafers, a starting material for solar modules. Supply of solar silicon is scarce, according to Evonik, because of heavy demand worldwide.

At the recent European Photovoltaics Solar Energy conference in Spain, Rohm and Haas launched new photovoltaic products under its line Enlight. You can check out some of these chemical materials, which the company said will improve solar cell efficiency and increase PV manufacturing yield.

Also at the conference, Dow Corning demonstrated a manufacturing process featuring new developmental silicone materials under the Dow Corning PV-6100 Encapsulant series that significantly increases the production rate of solar panels and lowers the cost per watt of solar power.

The encapsulants provide clear laminate to protect each solar cell in a panel and can replace commonly used ethyl vinyl acetate resin. Equipment for the new process requires less capital and less factory space, said Dow Corning.

The process and encapsulant series are being piloted by select solar partners in the new Dow Corning Solar Application Center in Freeland, Michigan and are expected to be commercially available in mid-2009.

“In the last three years, Dow Corning has invested more than $2 billion to research and develop materials designed to make solar energy an accessible and sustainable energy option globally. This investment represents our commitment to the alternative energy arena.”

DuPont said it anticipates the global PV market to grow by more than 50 percent in each of the next few years, “driving demand for existing and new materials that are more cost effective.”

“The photovoltaic industry is in the midst of a substantial surge globally, and the demand for solar energy continues to increase,” said Cynthia C. Green, vice president and general manager – DuPont Fluoroproducts.

The company is expanding production capacity for its Tedlar® films, a component of photovoltaic backsheets. Targeting start-up in late 2009, the project is expected to more than double the current global production for Tedlar®.

DuPont expects that its sales of several product lines into the photovoltaic industry could exceed $1 billion within the next five years.

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