New 3M film opens door for flexible, lightweight solar panels

3M's new polymer film could replace the rigid glass used on conventional solar panels and open the door to flexible, lightweight, weather-resistant solar panels.

Minnesota-based materials conglomerate 3M last week introduced a new polymer film that could replace the rigid glass used on conventional solar panels and open the door to flexible, lightweight, weather-resistant solar panels.

Made for CIGS, CdTe and OPV solar panels, 3M's "Ultra Barrier" solar film is transparent, durable and provides extremely low moisture vapor transmission rates. Manufacturers can laminate solar panels with 23 micrometer-thick plastic film to seal them and protect the panel's active elements from Mother Nature.

Almost all conventional solar panels use glass as a protecting layer. Why? It's cheap, transparent and durable.

But in the renewable energy race to the flexible solar panel -- which would open solar panels to an array of new applications -- 3M's ultrathin film may be just what manufacturers were looking for.

Using plastic to protect solar panels is not a new thing, of course. Any solar-powered backpack from your local camping supplier uses it.

However, 3M's multilayer film distinguishes itself because of its extreme durability -- it can handle decades of outdoor exposure -- and its ability to keep out moisture, which extends the life of the components it protects.

To boot, the film makes the entire photovoltaic module cheaper to make. Compared to glass modules, flexible PV modules using 3M's film require less installation time, remove the need for metal racking and lower fixed module manufacturing costs in the factory because they can now be made in a continuous, roll-to-roll process.

"High efficiency flexible solar modules manufactured with 3M’s Ultra Barrier Solar Film not only have the potential to drastically reduce the total system costs for rooftop solar installations," said 3M's Derek DeScioli in a statement, "but also have an array of niche applications where our customers can take advantage of the unique module form factor.”

Wondering about concentrated solar applications? 3M conveniently announced its Solar Mirror Film 1000 -- lightweight, flexible, and 92 percent reflective over 14 years -- earlier this month.

The company says it will begin high-volume production of the Ultra Barrier film next year.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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