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Completing the next-generation solar technology jigsaw puzzle

One of the most promising routes to sustainably meeting our global energy needs is solar power. In a multi-year collaboration with the independent R&D partnership Solliance, DSM is helping to develop and combine the necessary technology to take this green energy source to new levels of performance.
Completing the next-generation solar technology jigsaw puzzle

Solliance is a non-commercial European R&D partnership focused on unlocking the potential in Thin-Film Photo-Voltaics (TFPV), a diverse and growing segment of the global PV industry. The partnership is funded by its governmental and business stakeholders, which includes institutes such as TNO, ECN, Imec, Holst Centre, TU/e, Technical University Delft, Hasselt University and Forschungszentrum Jülich. DSM contributes its proprietary technology and R&D expertise, and is paving the way for commercializing the resulting technology.

The thin-film photo-voltaic challenge


Solliance’s ambition is to have all supply chain disciplines and capabilities involved, ranging from fundamental science and process development to material suppliers and TF module producers,” says Kurt du Mong, Program Director at DSM Advanced Solar.

We still aren’t sure what the total picture of new-generation thin-film solar energy technology looks like, but each partner has some of the necessary pieces of the puzzle – no one can do it alone.”

Interface approach

The three key components of a solar module are (1) an active solar cell layer that absorbs sunlight and transfers it into electricity, (2) conductive layers that make the electricity transferable, and (3) a protective “package” that ensures the layers continue to perform optimally in optical and physical terms over the long-term in all-weathers.

Solliance works at the interface of all components, developing technology for new and thinner (therefore more cost-effective) active layers, improved conductive and optical layers, as well as easier and faster production processes.

Contributing to evolution

DSM delivers important proprietary technology in terms of light management and protective layers,” Kurt explains. “We primarily do this through products such as our anti-reflective coating and light-trapping technology. But we also contribute our know-how and hardware in formulation development and texturing process.

All this, together with our in-depth industry insights and our reputable material sciences market presence, is being applied in a three-year collaboration roadmap. DSM has its own Application Specialist, Guido Meijers, on-site at Eindhoven HTC campus a few days every week for direct participation in day-to-day activities and pilot plant trials.”

Short- and long-term vision

Light hitting film’s textured surface

In the short term DSM is adapting its technology and applying it in new ways to improve the performance of CIGS, a key TFPV technology. We’ve already been able to implement light-trapping film in such a way that it generates more energy output while enabling a thinner active layer. “We’re already having interesting discussions with customers about this,” Kurt says.

In the longer term, DSM is exploring the potential of two other TFPVs; organic photo-voltaic (OPV) and Perovskite technology, both of which are potentially more efficient than CIGS.

The ultimate goal

Solliance is already delivering new and improved TFPV technology,” says Kurt. “The ultimate goal for solar is to be cost-competitive with other energy sources. The closer you get to that, the more widely used solar energy will be – with all the associated societal benefits in reduced climate impact and use of finite resources.”

Thin-film photo-voltaics, often abbreviated to “TFPV”, are an alternative to the silicon PV (based on wafers of silicon) used in more traditional solar panels. By using much thinner active layers, TFPV’s are not only more economical, but they also enable other applications such as flexible solar panels. This opens the way for new ways of integrating the panels, such as on curved surfaces or into fabrics, and can result in more, as yet unimagined, applications.

Huib van den Heuvel – Director Solliance

Solliance’s ambition is to make companies successful in developing and applying thin-film photovoltaic systems. For us, this entails increasing the efficiency of thin-film systems as they now exist, but also developing new, dedicated applications, such as PVs integrated in buildings or mobile electronics. To start such new markets, you need a network of companies to create the ecosystem that enables opportunities to grow."

Huib van den Heuvel – Director Solliance

"DSM is a valuable partner in this, helping us to improve current systems while identifying where new opportunities lie – and steering us towards them. We like the business model that DSM is developing, in which the end user shares in the benefits of innovation.

We also really appreciate the way they push us to come to conclusions, and accelerate the commercialization process in a ‘living lab’ type of approach. Their partnership is a real driver in making us reach the results we’re aiming for.”