Can one lift up a piece of solar panel simply with one hand? Dutch solar startup Solarge has replaced the glass layer on solar panels with reinforced plastic, which managed to cut down 50% of the weight, and does not impact the conversion efficiency of the solar panels.
An establishment of solar panels on the rooftop or the external walls of a house not only requires a delimitation of a usable area and the optimal azimuth after avoiding the shade, as well a rough estimation of the maximum possible installation of solar panels, but it also needs to take into account the load-bearing, since a single 100 x 165cm solar panel weighs about 18-20kg, with additional steel frames and concrete base that will only add to the total weight. Let’s not forget that the bigger the solar module is, the heavier the weight is.
The assemblage of solar panels is straight forward. Solar cells are first encapsulated between the glass and the backplane using EVA plastic, before fixated with aluminum frames. Solarge’s solar panels are different, as the company replaced aluminum and glass with fiber-reinforced thermoplastic polymer, which eliminates 50% of the weight due to the absence of aluminum frame and glass, while the 400°C plastic process removes the high-temperature processes for glass and aluminum that reduces carbon emission by 25%.
According to the official website, a single piece of the standard 206 x 99cm solar panel weighs about 10.5kg, which equals 5.25kg per m2. Solarge currently plans to establish a R&D and production plant in Eindhoven prior to Spring in 2022 that will be able to manufacture 500,000 m2 of solar panels each year.
Solarge CTO Gerard de Leede was a bit skeptical when he first heard about the concept of a plastic solar panel, since plastic trails behind glass pertaining to optical effect and hardness. De Leede pointed out that this plastic is manufactured by SABIC that is co-founded by DSM and GE, and is able to replace the glass layer of solar panels, where adequate plastic and additives would achieve the level of transparency and toughness that glass possesses.
De Leede believes that this robust and durable plastic serves as the competitive advantage of Solarge. Despite the availability of other light panels in the market, some of them are relatively defective and possess poor durability. Some China-made solar panels even contain PFAS that will derive catastrophic results once caught on fire.
(Cover photo source: Solarge PV)