Through Partnerships, Dyesol Makes Gains in the BIPV Market

Solar cell technology is potentially one of the most intriguing opportunities for manufacturers. There is tremendous interest is finding ways to harness the sun’s energy.

However, the solar industry has yet to reach its potential, largely due to the costs and size constraints of conventional silicon-based panel technology, which are primarily utilized for large-scale projects such as solar farms.

DSC Inspection

There is a major opportunity for photovoltaics (PV) to be used to harness the sun’s energy in other applications. The idea of building integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV, is one such approach. If PV technology could be integrated into materials such as steel or glass, there would be obvious benefits such as costs and construction.

This is an area where a number of companies are working on differing technologies. One promising approach is dye-based solar cells (DSC), which has been described as “artificial photosynthesis.” 

Developed by Prof. Michael Grätzel and his team at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), DSC is comprised of an electrolyte, a layer of titania and ruthenium dye deposited on glass, metal or polymer substrates. When light strikes the dye, the electrons are excited, and are absorbed by the titania to become an electric current many times stronger than that found in natural photosynthesis in plants.

Headquartered in Queanbeyan NSW, Australia, Dyesol is one of the major players in DSC technology. Formed in 2004 to commercialize DSC technology, Dyesol has a close connection with EPFL, where the original DSC invention was made in 1992. Prof. Grätzel is a member of the company’s board in an advisory role.

Dyesol manufactures equipment, pilot production lines and materials. Its Australian-based manufacturing facility has the capacity to produce 200,000 square meters of DSCmaterials annually. Dyesol also has operations in the U.S., Switzerland, Japan, Korea, Singapore and the UK.

Dyesol’s technology has lower cost and embodied energy in manufacture compared to conventional silicon-based photovoltaic technology, and produces electricity more efficiently even in low light conditions.

Marc Thomas, president and CEO of Dyesol Inc., the company’s U.S. subsidiary, is a strong believer that solar is going to make a difference in the world, and he sees Dyesol’s technology as a potential game-changer.

“When my daughter was born, I decided that I wanted to make more of a societal impact, and started looking into solar technologies,” said Thomas, who previously worked at Ford and General Electric. “I did a year of research on the industry, looking for the right company whose technology looks to be a long-term success. DSC can be added to glass and metal, and is a sustainable technology and business model. Our objective is to mass produce commercially viable DSC.”

Partnerships are critical to Dyesol’s strategy. In order to develop routes to markets, Dyesol has adopted a strategy of partnering with leading industrial companies. These companies include Tata Steel (formerly Corus Colors) in the UK; Tata Steel Europe is the second largest steel producer in Europe. Their goal is to develop, manufacture and market metal roof and wall cladding products with DSC functionality integrated into the strip steel, a market that could potentially be billions of dollars.

In 2010, a 50/50 joint venture between Dyesol Inc. and Pilkington North America (PNA) resulted in DyeTec Solar (DTS), headquartered in Toledo, OH. PNA is a member of the NSG Group (NSG), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of glass and glazing products for the building, automotive and specialty glass markets and the leading supplier of transparent conductive oxide (TCO) glass.

“Dyesol’s primary business model is selling materials to partners who are leaders in their respective fields,” said Thomas. “For example, Tata, formerly Corus Colors, has assets we can’t create. We leverage our partners’ abilities from the marketing and manufacturing standpoint, and that becomes our route to market. They are both good partners. They pull people out and put them in teams.”

Glass-based products for building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) and automotive integrated photovoltaics (AIPV) are the key markets for DTS.

“DyeTec Solar’s goal is to develop BIPV active glass,” Thomas said. “While it can’t be completely transparent, it can be translucent.”

Dyesol also forms alliances with leading global materials companies for high volume contract manufacture and collaborative development of next generation DSC materials. Since 2009, Dyesol has signed collaborations with Merck, to develop novel electrolytes for higher DSC performance, and with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia, to develop dyes, which are more efficient in energy collection and more stable in long term use. The company also has cultivated strong relationships with leading universities.

“We support 100 to 120 universities around the world with material,” Thomas noted.

Dyesol’s technology continues to make important gains. During the past month, the company announced the assembly of prototype DSC solar panels that represent the largest continuous substrate, single circuit series connected DSC device made to date. The panels, which are designed for BIPV applications, exceed 1.20 meters x 60 cm in size, and were built by teams from Dyesol Inc. and DyeTec Solar (DTS).

“These proof of concept panels was achieved by two world class teams focusing on identifying and solving key manufacturing process and equipment challenges associated with assembling very large DSC laminated glass panels,” said Thomas. “More importantly, these developments confirm that future products can be produced in relatively ‘low tech’ manufacturing environments, compared to the typical clean room environments often associated with many other solar technologies, thus leading to reduced overall production costs.”

While it will take time for the BIPV market to develop, Thomas sees great opportunities for Dyesol and DSC technology.

“We are going for the BIPV market,” Thomas concluded. “We will have demo products ready in 2013, and our first commercial products in 2015. While budget cycles are long developing, we will see mass deployment of DSC by 2020. I think we are well positioned.”