The solar technology to solve the carbon crisis

December 07, 2016 // By Thibaud Le Séguillon
The Future is dark. Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is damaging the climate. To try and prevent this, international agreements have been made to reduce carbon emissions that are changing the climate.

A major user of fossil fuels for heating, lighting and air-conditioning are buildings, which are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU. Thanks to better design and insulation, new buildings generally take less than a fifth of the amount of heating than older buildings and moving forward, the EU has set a target for all new buildings to be nearly zero-energy by 2020. 

But what about older buildings?  About 35% of the EU’s buildings are over 50 years old.  Retrofitting insulation can help reduce heat loss but not to near zero-energy levels. To achieve carbon neutral and even produce surplus electricity one needs solar panels that can be fitted to both new and old buildings.

In a report, launched at the end of September 2016, the European Renewable Energies Federation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives predict that half the citizens of the EU could be producing energy by 2050, accounting for 45% of electricity needs in the EU with solar on buildings being a major contributor.

This will be a major change in the electricity market.  Instead of centralised power generation from fossil fuel burning with a power distribution network, each building will produce its own power from solar. 

Heliatek of Dresden, Germany intends to be the leader in helping the world achieve this de-centralised, de-carbonised future. It has invented and patented photovoltaic film technology that offers many unique advantages compared to conventional silicon cells.

Called heliafilm®, it has small organic molecules that are vapour deposited in layers onto a long roll of PET plastic in a roll-to-roll process.  Vapour deposition enables much greater precision to be achieved than printing and has already been perfected by the OLED manufacturing industry enabling Heliatek to repurpose state-of-the-art OLED manufacturing machines for its own use rather than having to invent them.

The organic molecules have an expected lifespan in excess of 25 years according to accelerated ageing tests and the flexible cells outperform the required solar cell industry standard tests for degradation in severe condition.

Manufacturing is also green as it only needs a gram of organic material per square metre of film, low energy input with a payback of less than three months (unlike silicon cells that need a high energy input to manufacture and can take years to become carbon neutral) plus, at end of life, it is fully recyclable with PET plastic bottles as the organic molecules are non-toxic.