BioSolar Uses Castor Beans to Squeeze More Savings from Solar Panels

Air Date: 05/20/2010
Source:
Scientific American
Creator:
Tina Casey
Air/Publish Date:
05/20/2010
Event Date:
05/20/2010
Resource Type:
Article
Copyright:
n/a
Copyright Date:
2010
Clip Length:
-

This 2010 "Scientific American" news report summarizes advances in solar cell and solar energy efficiency by making a key protective layer on photovoltaic solar modules from a biobased polyamide resin derived from castor beans. Source: Scientific American, May 20, 2010

BioSolar Uses Castor Beans to Squeeze More Savings from Solar Panels

Maybe castor beans are good for something besides castor oil – California based BioSolar has come up with a high-performance protective backsheet for solar panels made partly from a castor bean resin. The bio-based product is cheaper than conventional backsheets, helping to lower the cost of photovoltaic installations.

By Tina Casey May 20, 2010

Maybe castor beans are good for something besides castor oil – California based BioSolar has come up with a high-performance protective backsheet for solar panels made partly from a castor bean resin. The bio-based product is cheaper than conventional backsheets, helping to lower the cost of photovoltaic installations.

High tech gains in solar cell efficiency may grab the banner headlines, but behind-the-scenes companies like BioSolar are also scoring points for helping to make solar energy more cost-competitive with fossil fuels by tweaking other components of a solar energy installation.

BioSolar and Castor Beans
Backsheets, which are a protective layer on photovoltaic solar modules, are typically made from petroleum products. BioSolar’s product is called BioBacksheet and true to its name, these backsheets are made from a biobased polyamide resin (nylon is a typical example of a polyamide resin) made from castor beans. The resin is compounded with another non-petroleum substance (cellulose fiber derived from cotton rags, according to this source). The company claims that in addition to being less expensive and more sustainable, its single-layer construction avoids the delamination problem conventional petroleum-based backsheets may have.

Squeezing More Juice from Solar Power Installations
Aside from lowering the cost of solar cell components, there are other ways to boost the cost-competitiveness of solar energy. Gossamer Space Frames is one company that is working on new thin film solar panel rack systems that install more quickly (and therefore less expensively), and collect solar energy more efficiently. Another company, Xerocoat, is boosting thin film solar cell efficiency with a new coating that repels dust more effectively and reduces reflection.

More Sustainable Solar Energy on the Horizon
BioSolar’s main issue is the paradox of manufacturing solar power installations from components made with petroleum products. The fact that a non-petroleum product is cheaper, well that’s just icing on the cake. Exploiting the potential for recycling is another path to more sustainable solar power, which Alcoa for example is pursuing with its low cost aluminum solar panels.

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