By now everyone knows the argument: install solar panels on your home or business, and help save the planet from the noxious fossil-fueled miasma that lurks in the not-too-distant wings.
But what about the fabrication of photovoltaics themselves? Though their utilization effectively minimizes dependence on petroleum-based energy, the backsheet that houses and protects most solar panels is usually made of ubiquitous petroleum products such plastic or fiberglass, as most bio-based materials have not proven durable enough.
BioSolar, Inc., a California-based company, has recently announced a breakthrough development that should eliminate the need for these petro-products and at the same time reduce costs. The backsheets, composed of recycled cotton rags and nylon made from castor beans, would reduce manufacturing costs by 25%, according to CEO David Lee, with an ultimate goal of 50%. Conventional backsheets currently cost between $.70 and $1.00 per square foot. This is welcome news, especially at a time when high oil prices are counteracting the cost reductions in other phases of solar panel manufacture.
Will these new panels be able to withstand the harsh elements and changing seasons? BioSolar claims their greener backsheets will have a lifespan of 20-25 years, and so far they’ve apparently passed all tests. Next, the company plans to tackle thin-film solar. According to Lee, “BioBacksheet should cover 95% of the present PV market in its current form. Most non-silicon based thin-film applications require extremely high moisture barrier and high temperature resistance, and we will address that market in the future.”
BioSolar expects the market for solar panel backsheets to triple from its current value of $300 million to $1 billion by 2010 as the demand for panels grows. Even greater reason then to limit the carbon footprint of the panels themselves.
Sources: “Making a Solar Cell Component Without Using Fossil Fuels”, Scientific American; “Solar Panels Ditching Petroleum For Cotton and Beans”, www.ecogeek.com; “BioSolar Makes PV Backsheets From Beans and Cotton”, www.optics.org; “Prototype of Bioplastic Solar Cell Backsheet Complete”, www.renewableenergyworld.com; “BioSolar Solar Panel Backsheets”, www.goodcleantech.com; “A Breakthrough Technology to Reduce the Cost of Solar Cells”, www.biosolar.com