Monday, July 6, 2009

DuPont and Dept. of Energy Collaborate on Thin-Film Solar Cells

Moisture degrades the performance of thin-film solar cells over time. Now DuPont has partnered with the Department of Energy in a $9-million effort to bring to market an ultra-thin film that will protect solar cells.

The protective film will be about 3,000 times thinner than a human hair. It will initially cover flexible, thin-film solar cells made from copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), and will later be used on other types of solar cells as well.

Thin-film solar cells can be made from plastic. They can be twisted and rolled, unlike glass, and can be used in a greater variety of applications than rigid solar panels made of glass and polysilicon.

The thin-film segment of the solar cell industry is projected to expand significantly in the next few years, according to a study by British research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Thin-film solar cells have low manufacturing costs, don't rely on silicon and have relatively high energy conversion rates. Improvements in technology, such as the one promised by the DuPont-DOE collaboration, will solidify thin-film CIGS solar cells' potential to be the world's dominant form of clean energy in the future.

DuPont is contributing $6 million to the program and the DOE will foot the remaining $3 million.

Any improvement in solar cell technology is good news. Unless costs come down and efficiencies go up, solar photovoltaic power will remain a niche source of clean energy.

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