Dyesol dye-based Solar PV tech firm aiming for UK grid parity

by Solar Selections on December 7, 2011

Dyesol Solar PV Cells

Dyesol is aiming to totally transform the solar photovoltaics (PV) industry by commercialising a still largely uncommercialised solar PV technology: the Dye Solar Cell (DSC). The Dye Solar Cell is a next-generation PV technology that utilises a ‘sandwich’ of materials to copy the photosynthetic properties of plants in order to turn sunlight into usable power. DSC has numerous applications, including Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) and portable PV.

Non silicon solar PV?

Silicon PV cell structure and the photovoltaic effect

Silicon PV cell structure and the photovoltaic effect. (Image: Creative Commons via Wikipedia.)

Ordinary solar photovoltaics

Although dominated by conventional silicon-based solar panels, there are also a number of non-silicon PV technologies (usually used in thin-film PV) available on the market, but most function in a way similar to silicon-based modules: the sun’s rays hit a semiconductor material with contains a positive-negative (p-n) junction, which electrons are pushed through. They then flow into a conductive material (such as aluminium) to produce DC electricity.

DSC Solar Cell Technology Diagram

DSC Solar Cell Technology Diagram (Image Via Dyesol)

Dyesol’s Dye-and-Nanotech solar PV

With a DSC material, however, in the place of a dense film or silicon semiconductor, 3 layers of separate materials are incorporated: a nano-particulate titania (Titanium Dioxide, used as a pigment in paints and, rather strangely, toothpaste), a long-life dye, and an electrolyte. The first layer is a high-tech nanomaterial, while the latter two work to mimic a plant’s natural photosynthetic process. The end result is that the sun’s energy is transformed into usable power instead of being locked into sugars, as happens in plants. The ‘bread’ of Dyesol’s material sandwich comes in the form of of two conductive materials. One  of these is transparent and faces the light, and the other acts as a substrate behind the PV cell. These take the electricity out of the cell to to its end use–whatever that may be.

Dyesol solar PV materials: Key advantages

-Simpler production processes mean lower cost than conventional silicon PV cells, plus lower embodied energy in production

-Can be applied as a film to the surface of conventional building materials and other materials

-Can replace conventional glass windows and building facades

-Made in a variety of different colours, for a wide range of options in building design

-Produces power even in low-light, real world conditions: cloudy and hazy days, dappled light, and morning and evening twilight

-Mitigates the need for expensive raw materials

-Production results in no toxic emissions

-In as early as 2008 saw peak conversion efficiencies of up to 11% (sunlight to power) in laboratory conditions–the same or better than peak efficiencies for many other thin-film solar PV materials

Where are Dyesol materials available?

Dyesol’s DSC materials may be purchased through the Dyesol online shop for academics and others studying the technology. Dyesol is also working with key multinational companies to bring DSC integrated products to the mass market in a number of applications, including in steel roofing and glass windows. Projects are now underway with Tata Steel, one of the world’s largest steel producers, and with Pilkington North America, one of the world’s largest glass makers. Dyesol is a global company with headquarters, laboratory and engineering facilities in Queanbeyan, NSW (recently visited by Australian PM Julia Gillard) and operations in the UK, Italy, Japan, and South Korea, among other countries.

Dyesol’s bold goal: grid price parity in the UK

At least for the near-term future, it seems that traditional PV modules are likely to remain the standard, cost-effective choice for roof-top retrofit residential solar installations. In the meantime, though, Dysol is striving to commercialise DSC. In the company’s joint project with Tata Steel in the UK, Dyesol made an explicit goal of ensuring that the electricity produced by its modules is competitive with that produced by the electrical grid, thereby eliminating reliance on the UK’s feed-in tariff for economic viability.

This is a bold goal, especially considering that most solar PV installers in the UK are vehemently protesting the recent, premature slashing of these very government incentives–many predicting a kind of solar industry Armageddon. Should it manage to reach this goal, however, it will doubtless have implications for the future trajectory of the solar PV industry, both in terms of affordability and government incentive policy.

© 2011 Solar Selections

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