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Polymers and photovoltaic solar energy: use, challenges, and considerations

The industry of solar energy has experienced significant growth during the last few years. This occurred thanks to the recent interest in renewable energies. Solar panels, the key element of photovoltaic systems, are made from a variety of different materials one of them being polymers.

Use of plastics in solar panels

Plastic materials can be used mainly as anti-reflective coatings in solar cells. They would reduce energy loss due to solar light being reflected as well as increase their efficiency in converting solar power into electricity.

They can also be used as protective films and encapsulants of solar panels. These films protect solar cells from adverse environmental conditions such as humidity, ultraviolet radiation, and mechanical impact. This would extend the shelf life of the solar panels.

They can also be used as substrate materials during the production of flexible solar cells. These cells have certain advantages in terms of portability, adaptability to curved surfaces, and a smaller cost of production.

Lastly, some conductive polymers are used in the production of conductive films for organic solar cells. These films make it easier to transport electricity generated by solar light and thus increase the efficiency of energy conversion.

How solar radiation affects plastic

Without a doubt, the use of polymers in this context is not challenge-free. On one hand, there is a breakdown caused by ultraviolet radiation. Polymers exposed to solar radiation can experience a breakdown and lose their properties. This will affect the shelf life of the polymeric materials and decrease their efficiency.

On the other hand, there is thermal stability and weather resistance. Polymeric materials must prevail in extreme weather conditions such as high temperatures, humidity, rain, wind, and sudden temperature changes.

Lastly, there are also the costs of production and availability. Some polymeric materials can have elevated production costs. This is because their manufacture requires certain limited resources.

Thus, to overcome these challenges it is essential to research and develop new polymers with improved properties.

We need polymers with a better ultraviolet radiation resistance, that can preserve their structural integrity in high temperatures and that can resist adverse weather conditions.

AIMPLAS’s experience with solar energy

In AIMPLAS we have had various R&D projects that had the goal of contributing to the improvement of the solar photovoltaic energy sector. One of those projects was SOLARFLEX.

SOLARFLEX’s main objective is researching and developing photovoltaic, ITO-free solar cells and to decrease the environmental impact. The SOLARFLEX project is financed by the Valencian Community’s Ministry for Sustainable Economy, Production Sectors, Trade and Employment through grants from IVACE, and is co-funded by the European Union (ERDF) through the Valencian Community ERDF Operational Programme (2021-2027).