The use of adhesives has long been intertwined with our everyday lives, with one of the earliest use cases dating to circa 200,000 years ago in the form of tar-hafted stone tools. Today, adhesives are ubiquitous – found in packaging, automobile, aerospace, construction, medical, and consumer industries – and dominated by companies like Henkel, 3M, Huntsman, DowDuPont, Sika, H.B. Fuller, BASF, and Pidilite. Continue reading
The high concentrating PV (HCPV) company, GreenVolts, is officially selling its assets after its primary investor, ABB, pulled support from the startup. GreenVolts outsourced its manufacturing to contractors such as Foxconn, so assets up for sale will largely be intellectual property.
GreenVolts obtained exactly what many small solar manufacturers are looking for: a large, well-positioned, strategic investor to add bankability and take responsibility for driving growth. Semprius found that in Seimens, and Miasolé had been looking for a buyer and recently closed with Hanergy. While the advantages of this gaining significant support from a strategic investor are numerous, there is also an inherent risk, as became apparent with GreenVolts and ABB. If the investor proves fickle and decides to cut losses, the solar company will not be able to survive. Strategic investors that invest in solar need to be willing to take a short-term loss for long-term gain.
For the broader HCPV industry, GreenVolts’ failure adds to concern surrounding the industry that has been growing since Amonix shut down its Las Vegas manufacturing facility (client registration required). We expect the situation to get worse before it gets better, but our favorites – Soitec, SolFocus, and Suncore as outlined in the Lux Research report, “Putting High-Concentrating Photovoltaics into Focus” (client registration required) – are still moving forward on capacity and installation targets, and can easily satisfy our 700 MW HCPV demand forecast in 2017.
As hype for HCPV dwindles, companies are starting to look into low concentrating PV (LCPV) as an intermediate technology between expensive, highly efficiency HCPV and cheap, less efficient flat panel PV. SunPower’s C7 product aims to do just that with reflectors that concentrate sunlight 7X onto SunPower’s interdigitated back contact (IBC) solar cells with 22.8% cell efficiency under 7X concentration. The company has an agreement with Tucson Electric Power to install 6 MW of the LCPV product. Low concentration allows for a broader range of reflector options as long as they are cheap and limit optical losses. SunPower’s C7 system uses parabolic trough glass mirrors, but startups like TenKsolar and Absolicon use 3M reflector films, Solaria uses patterned glass, and Cool Earth Solar uses a proprietary refractive film co-developed with Avery Dennison.
Monocrystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cells used in LCPV modules are many times cheaper on a per area basis than multijunction cells used in HCPV modules; however, c-Si cells are more susceptible to heat and UV degradation, and benefits from increased encapsulant transparency will multiply under concentration, which can translate to interesting opportunities for innovative material suppliers. Material and chemical companies may want to look to LCPV as a potential new market for innovative optical or encapsulation materials.
We recently caught up with Dr. M. Belen Urquiola, Laboratory Manager of 3M’s Energy and Advanced Materials Division, to discuss 3M’s recent opening of a new plant in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil to make glass bubbles – hollow soda-lime-borosilicate glass microspheres. The low density, high compressive strength, and enhanced insulation properties of these glass bubbles gave them early traction in the oil and gas industry, where they serve as fillers for pipe insulation and buoyancy modules, as well as additives in drilling fluids and cement. Thus, 3M’s decision to locate the new plant in Brazil comes as no surprise, as the country is projected to have the highest annual growth in the coming decades for the production of hydrocarbons.
Outside of oil and gas, 3M is also targeting structural composite applications for its glass bubbles in automotive, aerospace, sporting goods, and construction. Belen said glass bubbles already find use in mainstream automotive applications. When asked to compare glass bubbles to glass fibers, she described these two reinforcements as synergistic rather than competitive technologies. For instance, the directional nature of fibers results in composites with anisotropic properties, but the spherical nature of bubbles compensates and can lead to more isotropic structures. In addition to dimensional stability, hybrid compositions are more amenable to formulating multifunctional composites combining mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties.
While fiber reinforcements have an intrinsic advantage in tensile strength due to their tubular geometry, the enhancement in compressive properties offered by glass bubbles is important for deep-sea applications. One intriguing potential application for a hybrid bubble-fiber composite is in oil and gas risers, which are typically steel-based and serve as the subsea conduit between the offshore drilling rig surface and drilling equipment down in the wellbore (see the report “Tapping the Advanced Materials Reservoir: Coatings, Composites, and Additives in Oil and Gas“). Not only do risers need to be strong, they also need to be flexible enough to withstand the constant dynamic forces in the subsea environment. Moreover, while the interior of risers must withstand extremely hot and often corrosive production fluids, the external surface must cope with ice-cold, high-salinity water – especially in arctic locations. A plastic composite employing both glass fiber and bubble reinforcements is a potentially great alternative for steel in this application – offering enhancements in tensile and compressive strength, flexibility, and insulation. While industry conservatism and an ability to get by on steel have thus far made oil and gas a laggard in the advanced composites market (see the report “Carbon Fiber and Beyond: The $26 Billion World of Advanced Composites“), new composite formulations have the potential to increase traction. Lux will continue to monitor further developments in this space.