Flexible organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells over 6m long and 50cm wide have been produced by a recent pan European collaborative research and development project named “FabriGen“. The project, which involved six partners from four different countries manufactured the demonstrator that combines flexible OPV materials with tensile fabrics utilising roll to roll production techniques. 16 m2 of active-area material was made for the final demonstrators.
The aim of project FabriGen was to work towards Europe’s ambitious targets for renewable energy generation by bringing new innovative solar energy products to market. The development of organic photovoltaics with flexible form factors opens up a host of opportunities for designers to embed energy harvesting and functionality into their products, creating the opportunity for new, innovative solar panels that are thinner,lightweight large area and potential lower cost.
The flexible nature of OPV provides a number of advantages to the solar power industry. The ability to produce the panels on fabric or plastic surfaces means that complex shapes and structures can be designed to maximise solar collection. In addition the technology will enable the production of large area panels to be manufactured in a cost and resource efficient manner, promising to bring the cost of solar power on par with that of conventional energy. FabriGen focused on developing the technology for applications such as, large scale tensile membrane structures for example ‘The Millennium Dome’ and Stadia covers, and smaller scale permanent installations such as Solar Car Park covers, marquees, walkways and textile facades for buildings. A key aspect of the research was the development and integration of barrier encapsulation layers to provide the long-life performance that is needed for outdoor use.
Dr David Bird, Senior Scientist at CPI said, “The FabriGen consortium has been able to successfully produce a large area working prototype, a significant achievement in the development of low cost, flexible organic photovoltaics. The use of an ITO free front contact facilitated the fabrication of the flexible device. The next steps are focused on upscaling the OPV Fabric to a price point that enables volume production so that we can start to see the emergence of novel applications in the built environment.“
Robert Carpenter, CEO of Inside2Outside (I20) who coordinated the project added, “Delivering the demonstrator from concept to prototype, was a real joint effort from all of the consortium. From vacuum processing the metal electrode at CPI, followed by coating the organic semiconductor at Fraunhofer ISE, through to printing the silver contacts and the lamination at Coatema and lastly the high frequency welding of the solar foil on the fabric membrane at I2O, a range expertise was involved. The solar cell structure and the module design were developed at Fraunhofer ISE. The Freiburg researchers were also involved in the encapsulation development under the leadership of CPI. Coatema Coating Machinery GmbH was responsible for the process development of the large area lamination. The robust, weatherproof electrical design was provided by ELON Technologies, whilst The University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy achieved the UV stabilisation and down-conversion. DZP Technologies supported the development throughout with the delivery of testing devices and assessment of novel materials.“
FabriGen, ‘fabric structures for solar power generation’ was a European Framework Programme Seven Project which ran from October 2011 to April 2014. The project was started by Robert Carpenter, CEO of Inside2Outside Ltd and included; UK based CPI and DZP Technologies , Fraunhofer ISE and Coatema Machinery GmbH from Germany, The University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy in Bulgaria and ELON Technologies from the Czech Republic.
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About I2O Ltd
Inside2Outside Ltd is a UK based manufacturing company that designs, develops, manufactures and installs tensile membrane structures from canopies, shelters, Solar Car Park solutions and walkways through to large area atrium covers and venue covers and textile facades for buildings.
Inside2Outside is pioneering the use of lightweight flexible photovoltaic materials as ‘Tensile PV’ principally for use on its structures, but also for use on fragile or non-load bearing roofs. Tensile PV has been used in large area Solar Car Parks for Power Parking.