Chemicals profit in solar

DuPont, Dow Corning, BASF, Wacker Chemie, Solutia (and other chemical companies) have been announcing left and right about recent developments and projects within the solar market — especially solar encapsulants.

According to DuPont, encapsulants are among the most important materials to solar module manufacturers for high-volume module sealing and integration.

DuPont has collaborated with Oerlikon Solar in the development of a new ultra-thin white reflective solar photovoltaic encapsulant sheet. The DuPont™ PV5223 white reflective polyvinyl butyral (PVB) encapsulant is said to enable easier manufacturing of next-generation thin film photovoltaic modules that not only capture sunlight coming in, but also reflect more sunlight back through the module, delivering more power.

In its recent earnings announcement, DuPont expects its 2010 photovoltaic sales to grow over 50% from increased market demand for new installations in Europe, North America and parts of Asia. DuPont sales to the photovoltaic market exceeded $550 million in 2009. The company’s 2011 PV sales are expected to exceed $1 billion, while DuPont also targets its 2014 sales to exceed $2 billion.

Silicones manufacturer Dow Corning, meanwhile, is jointly promoting with Reis Robotics its new Dow Corning® PV-6100 Encapsulant Series. Reis Robotics supplies equipment used in a more efficient and cost-economic PV manufacturing process. The encapsulant is said to provide protection to solar cells in a panel and can replace commonly used ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) resin.

Solutia, with its collaboration with Oerlikon Solar (sounds familiar? See DuPont info to refresh your mind), recently launched its solar encapsulant Saflex(R) Radiant White PA27 that reportedly helps increase the efficiency of the solar module while reducing material usage.

In March, Solutia also bought Etimex Solar GmbH, a subsidiary of Etimex Holding GmbH, which is controlled by funds affiliated with Alpha Gruppe. Etimex supplies EVA encapsulants to the PV market.

But wait! There’s more!

Wacker Chemie started in April 21, its additional 10,000 tonnes/year polycrystalline-silicon production at its Burghausen facility in Germany (which the green blogger had the privilege to tour). WACKER said it is 6 months ahead of its original, very ambitious schedule. The expanded output will reportedly enables the company to meet rising global demand for hyperpure polycrystalline silicon for both the solar sector and the semiconductor market.

BASF, meanwhile, introduced its new environment-friendly cleaning solution SELURIS® Clean range of process chemicals for the manufacture of solar cells. It is said to enable efficient hydrophilicity, i.e. the targeted modification of surface activity, as well as subsequent cleaning and passivation of the solar cell wafers.

And before I close this interesting solar developments, the US solar trade group Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported in April that the US solar manufacturing industry showed a 7% increase in PV module production in 2009 compared to the 2008 level. PV installations (grid-tied) grew by 38%, and cumulative concentrating solar power plants last year reached 432 megawatts with a development pipeline totaling more than 10,000 megawatts.

Still, not everything is sunny and bright in the solar land. Environment group Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) released in March its annual Solar Company Scorecard, emphasizing the need for sustainable solar manufacture and a sustainable solar product encompassing its lifecycle – from raw materials to disposal.

Of the companies who responded to SVTC’s survey, 36% said they conduct lifecycle analyses or risk assessments on new chemicals, including nanomaterials that they use in their products.

[Photo of DuPont's solar encapsulant sheet]


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