customer experiences

Flexible thin-film solar cells can ease the energy transition

4 February 2019 • 3 min reading time

Together with its industrial and academic partners, Solliance Solar Research is working on the solar technology of the future – thin-film solar cells. These solar cells can be used to generate energy on objects of every conceivable shape, form or material, avoiding the need to sacrifice valuable space. In this way, they can help us create a sustainable, renewable-energy based society.

Want to know more?

Would you like to join us in developing promising technologies or processes in the field of thin-film solar cells? If so, please contact Ronn Andriessen.

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Thin-film solar cells are much thinner than the cells used in conventional solar panels. Their unique flexibility and pliability open up a wide range of options. For example, even the surfaces of three-dimensional objects, such as cars, can be covered with a transparent, thin film of solar cells.

“Flexible arrays of any size or shape can be made by printing these solar cells onto plastic films”

So what’s involved?

Thin-film solar cells are made by coating large surfaces with an active material (perovskite, Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS), or cadmium telluride), in one go, either by printing it on or by means of a vapour deposition process. Flexible arrays of any size or shape can be made by printing these solar cells onto plastic films, for example. If necessary, they can also be see-through (semi-transparent). These flexible and inexpensive energy-generating films can be easily fitted onto glass (or sandwiched inside it) or onto things such as façade elements, roads and vehicles. “We can modify the size, shape and look of these solar cells, so they can be inconspicuously integrated with other components”, says Ronn Andriessen, Managing Director of Solliance Solar Research.

“We believe that any surface in the built environment around us could be used to generate energy”

Users generate energy on site

“Thanks, in part, to this technology, we believe that any surface in the built environment around us (such as walls, windows and roofs) could be used to generate energy. In recent years, TNO, imec (the Belgian nanoelectronics and digital technologies innovation hub) and other partners have acquired a great deal of knowledge and expertise about the materials, production tools and processes needed to fabricate solar cells from extremely thin layers of material. We have now developed the processes and tools needed to produce large volumes of solar cells, in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Together with Holst Centre, we have also developed the barrier technology needed to ensure that these solar cells have a long service life. We are currently working hard to develop the technologies needed to integrate these customized solar cells into the final components. Our ultimate goal is to produce aesthetically pleasing components that generate electrical energy where it is needed – close to the user”, Andriessen explains.

From lab to fab

Solliance Solar Research translates theoretical principles into high-tech production methods and applications. Its goal is to develop promising research into market-ready technologies, materials, processes and products. The emphasis here is on performance, stability, cost efficiency and the ability to quickly turn lab results into fabricated products. Hence the phrase ‘From lab to fab’. “Our goal is to push forward with the development of thin-film solar cells until they become economically viable. This is expected to have a significant impact on the market, when partner companies introduce a wide range of related items such as new materials, inks, production machines and processes. Ultimately, this will generate a lot of new business for the manufacturers of integrated, energy-generating, end products”, Andriessen points out.

Shared research

Solliance Solar Research was founded in 2010. TNO, Belgium’s imec, ECN (Energy research Centre of the Netherlands, part of TNO since 2018), Holst Centre, and Eindhoven University of Technology have been involved with Solliance since its inception. In recent years, the organization has succeeded in establishing links with a range of high-profile partners. These include Forschungszentrum Jülich, Hasselt University, Delft University of Technology, the University of Twente, and the University of Groningen, as well as companies such as VDL, DSM, Panasonic, Greatcell Solar, Solartek, Shell and many others. “Solliance stands for shared research – because engaging with partners triggers faster, more goal-oriented work, new viewpoints and fruitful ideas. In addition, the end products can reach the market more quickly”, Andriessen stresses.

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