Heliatek Organic Solar Cells Show Promise
In a previous article we discussed the growth opportunity of “building integrated photovoltaics” (BIPV) and highlighted a company addressing this opportunity, Oxford Photovoltaics. Another private European company addressing this same growth opportunity is Heliatek.
Spun-off in 2006 from the Technical University of Dresden and the University of Ulm, German company Heliatek is focused on mass-producing organic solar films. In the summer of 2012, the company announced a large third round of funding from the likes of BASF, Bosch, and Wellington Partners. With 60 employees and 15 patents protecting their technology, Heliatek is the only company in the world that specializes in solar panel manufacture using vacuum deposition of small molecules (oligomers) on flexible film. This third generation solar cell technology competes directly with the dye sensitized solar cell technology highlighted in our earlier article on Dyesol. In March of 2012 Heliatek inaugurated its first $19 million production facility for manufacturing flexible organic solar films. The company specifically states their focus is on solar films, not solar panels.
Heliatek claims the advantage of their organic solar cell technology lies in better process control, higher efficiency, and most importantly, longer lifespan (>20 years by 2015). While they have not yet achieved the current average efficiency of 15% which is seen as economically viable in the industry, Heliatek has achieved three efficiency world records in a row with the most recent in December of 12%.
Heliatek claims that due to the superior performance of their cells in low light conditions, that this 12% efficiency is comparable to about 14% to 15% efficiency for traditional solar technologies. Their currently stated target is to achieve an efficiency of 15% by 2015. Because of low process temperatures, these organic cells can use a simple plastic foil as a substrate which is lightweight and ultra thin when compared to other thin film modules. The film can be manufactured in various colors and transparency levels allowing for a great degree of architectural freedom when implementing.
In addition to the key relationships Heliatek has formed with investors such as Bosch and BASF, the Company signed a joint development agreement last month with AGC Glass Europe, the European branch of AGC which is the world’s largest producer of flat glass. In February of 2012, Heliatek signed a joint development agreement with RECKLI GmbH, a world leader in the manufacture of elastic molds for concrete building façades. The effort seeks to enable vertical concrete walls of buildings to become highly efficient solar energy harvesters.
According to an October 2012 article on PVTECH, the BIPV market in 2012 was 2.1 billion and expected to grow to 7.5 billion by 2015, an increase of 257% in only three years. Well-funded Heliatek appears to be in a good position to capitalize upon this opportunity in the coming years.
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