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Solar power: Meeting the world’s energy needs

Anti-reflective coating from DSM boosts solar panel performance

How can our society get more from solar power? While the technology tends to produce none of the carbon, methane or particulate emissions that fossil fuels emit, to truly realize its potential and provide a long-term, viable alternative to burning fossil fuels for energy, the performance of solar modules has to improve: Today, the proprietary anti-reflective coating from DSM’s scientists is achieving precisely that, by boosting the  transmission, output and durability of solar modules.
DSM's Solar Technologies Demonstration Center, Pune, India

This anti-reflective coating was inspired by our work in the picture framing glass industry, where consumers wanted to protect their art while enjoying their picture or painting without reflections affecting the view. Today, it’s the best-performing single layer anti-reflective coating technology on the market for solar-module front-sheet cover glass.

Light transmission tests

The coating is created by depositing a layer of thin, highly porous silica-based film onto the surface of a glass plate. This reduces the amount of light reflected from the surface of the glass – thereby ensuring the highest possible transmission of light and maximizing the solar power output. The chemistry and structure of the coating are designed to withstand weather conditions ranging from harsh UV light to acid rain and extreme temperature fluctuations – help extending the life of the solar panel to a potential 25 years.

Nanopores: The key to reflectivity

The key to the anti-reflective coating’s reflective properties lies in millions of nanopores that create a refractive index between the air and glass. To enable this porous structure, we created a formulation consisting of “core-shell” particles, made from a latex polymer core and a silica-based shell. In turn, a wide range of deposition methods (like roll-coating and slot-die coating) can then be used to deposit a 100-150-nanometer-thick layer onto the surface of the glass. The spaces between the core-shell particles are filled with a modified silica binder, which acts as a glue. From here it is cured, with the polymer core removed by thermal degradation to leave a silica-glass layer with a high internal porosity that can significantly reduce reflection. The end result? A solar module energy gain of up to 4%.

Testing AR coating

Minds behind the technology

The development of the anti-reflective coating has been a true team effort, bringing together expertise across DSM in everything from the development of the core template latex resin to creating a stable suspension of nanoparticles for the formulation to providing the sol gel chemistry knowledge essential for developing a hybrid system of organic and inorganic components.

We also (continue to) work with academic institutes, universities, knowledge centers and customers across the globe (including external partners in the UK, Netherlands, France) to increase the energy gain of the coating and optimize its production. For example, the technology is being applied in our long-term solar energy research partnership with Solliance.

In turn this knowledge is now being used to create a whole new generation of solar innovations, for example in light management products like light-trapping film. By bringing down the cost of solar energy we can help and make it a viable and affordable energy source, benefitting both our planet its people.