When Bertrand Piccard became the first person to pilot a flight powered entirely by solar energy back in 2016, he could scarcely have imagined where it would lead. Today, the Solar Impulse Foundation (named after his famous plane) is emerging as a sustainability pioneer – most recently through its launch of the #1000solutions to change the world program. The DSM Endurance backsheet was recently named to that list – as our Market Insights & Sustainability Lead, Imco Goudswaard explains…
We are proud to be included on this #1000 list because big, disruptive breakthroughs in the solar industry tend to be rare, with most innovation being more incremental. But here at DSM we’re also excited because the philosophy and aims behind the Solar Impulse fit so well with our own. Like ourselves, the Foundation has a strong purpose tied to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (not least the need for clean, affordable energy for all). Perhaps most importantly, we share their view that any game-changing solution must also be economically viable. This is the reality – and the only way that we can accelerate our transition to a carbon-free and sustainable economy.
The Foundation assessed all contenders based on three main criteria of feasibility, environmental impact and profitability. In the case of our Endurance backsheet that adds up to 15 million modules already installed worldwide; a fully recyclable product made without solvent-based adhesives and fluoropolymers and featuring a 30% lower carbon footprint; and no failures since 2013 – all of which makes it more efficient for customers’ solar modules and more profitable for DSM. These points that were highlighted by the expert jurors, who said that: “The solution provides a clear environmental benefit compared to its competitors”; while they also recognized that, “the product is sold at competitive price levels.” As a result, our Endurance backsheet is not only featured on this list but now gets to proudly wear a Solar Impulse Efficient Solution Label!
Apart from the cradle-to-cradle concept, there has been very little formal recognition of solar sustainability innovation – until now. However, this is going to change in our industry as we see the imminent introduction of Green Product Purchasing (GPP) regulations that set the criteria for public tenders. Quite simply, products that bear labels indicating their sustainability credentials will be favoured over those that don’t. In fact, here at DSM we’re a member of the EU taskforce for eco-labelling and eco-design of PV modules and inverters - and as part of this advocacy work we’re already looking at how some of the criteria used to assess the #1000 could feed into this project.
Ultimately, our Endurance backsheet is bringing an extra dimension to solar sustainability through its full recyclability – and this is what’s really exciting. To put that into perspective, by 2050 it’s estimated that there will be enough modules installed on earth to build a staircase to the moon and back. Why solve one problem (by establishing renewable energy) only to create a new one by not being able to re-use the precious material resources used to create these modules? With greater pressure on the solar industry to turn a profit, we are starting to see smart customers recognize this longer-term view – and the value that extremely durable and recyclable products like our Endurance backsheet can deliver. It’s a smart choice for all – and we’re delighted to be part of the #1000solutions to change the world!
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