Vitex, Pacific Northwest National Lab Create Impervious ‘Sandwich Bag’ To Take Solar Power Mainstream
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in chemistry, physics, and material science. Graff and Gross were eager to tell me about how they’ve created multiple layers of polymers that are sandwiched around an inorganic layer with aluminum oxide that stops moisture from getting through. They’ve reduced the number of layers, to bring down cost, without sacrificing the needed durability.
The major competitors in making the barrier film are 3M and General Electric, Graff says, although they appear to be focusing on using it for different applications, he adds. All of the work at those companies, and what’s happening at Vitex and PNNL, is happening in parallel with work to create thin, efficient, flexible solar panels, which has been going on for years and is much more widely publicized.
There are three major thin solar photovoltaic technologies in the works, which use amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and something called CIGS (cadmium indium gallium selenide). The last one is the only one that’s feasible to embed in roof shingles, Graff says, so that’s the one Vitex and PNNL are looking at encasing with their barrier film. SoloPower, Miasole, and Nanosolar are a few of the better-known companies pursuing CIGS as thin-film solar material, according to VentureBeat.
So will barrier film ever hit the mainstream as a coating for thin solar panels, or will this end up struggling to get traction in the marketplace, like the coating for displays on TVs and handhelds? To hear the scientists talk, they are confident in the science, and their ability to do commercial scale-up, but they still don’t know whether it will really take off.
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