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Startup Enfoil produces rugged, thin, flexible solar panels

24 Jul 2023

Launch partners Hasselt University and imec says Belgium-based firm in talks with industry to put the panels on trucks.

Belgium-based Hasselt University (“UHasselt”) and research institute imec have announced the launch of Enfoil, a new spin-off company offering pliable, robust solar panels of only a few millimeters thick that can be integrated on various surfaces.

The partners also stated that “initial talks between EnFoil and industry leaders to produce the solar panels and integrate them onto the roofs of trucks are ongoing. Enfoil’s solar panels are the result of years of scientific research.”

Standard silicon solar panels found on rooftops already play an important role in renewable energy but cannot be placed on every surface. For years, UHasselt and imec have been investigating new types of solar cells that are easier and cheaper to integrate onto different surfaces. “With Enfoil, the new spin-off of UHasselt and imec, we are now taking a very big step,” said Dominique Coster, CEO of EnFoil. EnFoil stands for Energy Enabling Foil.

Flexible and sustainable

Until now, to integrate solar cells on surfaces of trucks, buildings or tents, consumers were limited to standard, typically flat products of a pre-defined size, and handled the integration themselves. “This mainly limited the technology to exclusive construction projects, or as an expensive opt-ins for cars. With Enfoil, we aim to change this,” said Marc Meuris, CTO.

Meuris added, “We intend to make custom solar foils in any size and shape at a large scale. The solar foils will be directly installed or further integrated into our customers's products. The production will be done locally and we will guarantee the feasibility and integration of the final products.”

EnFoil combines technologies and processes that are patented and developed within UHasselt and imec. The thin-film solar cells are based on CIGS technology, made from copper-indium-gallium and selenium.

“This technology offers lightweight, flexibility and impact resistance which is crucial for many new applications,” said prof. Bart Vermang of imo-imomec, imec’s associate lab at UHasselt. “And the solar cells achieve almost the same efficiency as standard panels.”

EnFoil has ongoing discussions with the industry to bring its solar foil to market. Meuris continued, “A wide array of applications will be possible, such as integrating the solar cells on swimming pool covers or roof tiles. Currently, we mostly focus on the logistics sector, aiming to integrate our materials on roofs and sidewalls of trucks to power their sensors and track & trace systems. It would save the battery, and under abundant sunlight, the battery could even be charged.”

The project has already received support from the European Research Council through an ERC Proof of Concept. A grant, worth 150,000 euros, is intended to bring new technologies to the market. With this, UHasselt will recruit a researcher who will continue to work with EnFoil on product development.

Boosting performance of hot perovskite solar cells

Researchers at EPFL (Lausanne, Switzerland), the University of Toronto, and the University of Kentucky say they have significantly improved the operational stability of perovskite solar cells at high temperatures, which is necessary for their use in terawatt power grids.

At high temperatures, perovskite solar cells (PSCs) are susceptible to degradation, leading to energy loss and decreased performance. In a new study, published in Science, the researchers minimize such degradation by using fluorinated aniliniums, a class of compounds used in pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and materials science.

The study was led by Michael Grätzel at EPFL, Edward Sargent at the University of Toronto, and Kenneth Graham at the University of Kentucky.

The researchers incorporated fluorinated aniliniums in the “interfacial passivation” step of PSC fabrication. Interfacial passivation is a technique used to enhance the stability and performance of interfaces between different layers or materials to minimize defects, reduce charge recombination, and improve overall efficiency and stability.

Adding fluorinated aniliniums enhanced the stability of PSCs by avoiding progressive ligand intercalation. This prevented the continuous penetration of ligand molecules between the layers or structures of the perovskite material, which destroys the integrity of the crystals, leading to degradation and decreased performance of PSCs.

With this approach, the scientists achieved a certified quasi-steady-state power-conversion efficiency of 24.09% for inverted-structure PSCs. When they tested an encapsulated PSC – a device within a protective enclosure – at a temperature of 85°C, 50% relative humidity, and 1-sun illumination, the device worked at its maximum power generation for 1560 hours (~65 days) while maintaining its functionality and efficiency.

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