The darker side of solar

You know why traditional chemical manufacturing processes are considered very energy efficient these days? Because they have been doing these processes for decades.

This cannot be said for newer manufacturing methods such as solar panel production, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Timothy Gutowski.

“The seemingly extravagant use of materials and energy resources by many newer manufacturing processes is alarming and needs to be addressed alongside claims of improved sustainability from products manufactured by these means,” he said.

Professor Gutowski said the inherent inefficiency of current solar panel manufacturing methods could drastically reduce the technology’s lifecycle energy balance, “that is, the ratio of the energy the panel would produce over its useful lifetime to the energy required to manufacture it.”

MIT also analyzed other major manufacturing processes in a study, which was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T). The researchers, however, did not analyze production of pharmaceuticals or petroleum, and they only looked primarily at processes where electricity was the primary energy source.

Back to solar, here are some recent investment news in the industry:

  • Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing USAsays its global solar division has a backlog of $52 million in solarmodule contracts. To date, Worldwide has signed approximately $90million in new contracts, the majority of which are expected to berecorded during the 2009 calendar year.

  • Lauren Engineers & Constructors signed a contractwith Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) as the engineering,procurement and construction contractor for a new 75 MW Concentrated Solar Power Plantnear Indiantown, FL. The project is said to be the second largest solarthermal power plant in the world and the world’s first hybrid solarfacility.

  • BioSolar plans to expand the company’s BioBacksheet™ technologyto accommodate copper-indium-gallium-selenide and cadmium telluridethin-film modules. The BioBacksheet™ is a premium-grade backsheetconsisting of a cellulosic film combined with a highly water resistantand high dielectric strength nylon film made from castor beans.

  • Air Products signed a letter of intentto provide liquid bulk and on-site gases to China’s Best Solar Hi TechCo., Ltd, which is building a new thin-film photovoltaic (PV) facilityin Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, China. The facility will have anannual solar module manufacturing capacity of 330 MW at Phase 1, usingamorphous silicon thin-film technology.

  • Totaland GDF SUEZ are considering locating a silicium wafers fabricationplant intended for the photovoltaic industry on the De Vernejoulindustrial site in the Moselle region in France. The initial investmentis estimated at approximately €70M and could involve 80 to 100 jobs.

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