BioSolar Inc., a publicly traded California company, says it’s come up with a way to build a better solar panel, with plastics made from plants.
I sat down recently with company CEO David Lee, both of us at keyboards, to discuss BioSolar’s plans for a plastic revolution in sun power manufacturing.
Lee’s protective backing is derived from cotton and castor beans, and costs 25 percent less than Tedlar, the petroleum-based film made by rival DuPont, company officials say. Lee, an electrical engineer, founded the company in 2006.
Q: What makes BioSolar different from other solar companies in the United States?
Lee: BioSolar is developing a technology to produce bio-based photovoltaic (PV) components from renewable plant sources that will reduce the cost per watt of PV modules. BioSolar will gradually replace the petroleum-based portions of the PV module and do so at a substantial cost savings.
While most of the PV industry is focused on photovoltaic efficiency to reduce cost, we are introducing a new dimension of cost reduction by replacing petroleum-based plastic solar cell components with durable bio-based plastics.
Q: What is the cost difference between petroleum- and bio-based plastics for making solar panels? Can you make a less-expensive solar panel with bio-based plastics versus petroleum?
Lee: BioBacksheet, which will be the first commercially available PV module component made from renewable materials, will be initially priced 25 percent below comparable petroleum-based backsheets, with the potential to be more than 50 percent cheaper in high volume production later. This is just one of many PV module components that currently use petro-based materials, and BioSolar intends to expand this technology to other remaining PV module components in the future.
Q: How long before your developments in solar go to market? Are you in discussions with manufacturing companies?
Lee: BioSolar is in the later stage of pre-production for BioBacksheet-C, the company’s first bio-based PV module component to be commercialized. We expect to be ready for full-scale production some time during the second half of 2009. We have established relationships with contract manufacturers including Rowland Technologies at Wallingford, Connecticut.
Q: How do bio-plastics reduce the carbon footprint of solar power?
Lee: Most solar cells currently require components made from petroleum-based plastics. New solar panel installation was about 25 million square feet in 2006, and an annual increase of 40 percent was expected. Though the recent worldwide recession reduced the number of actual new installations to below the predicted rate, we still expect to see a significant increase of new solar installation going forward.
The large volume of demand for petroleum-based plastics needed to manufacture PV modules will disqualify solar energy as a true green energy. By replacing these petroleum based plastics with bio-based materials, we believe we can make the solar energy a true green energy.