Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) is a fluoropolymer that has been increasingly utilized in design and construction as a high-performance glass substitute. ETFE films are primarily suited to glazing applications, due to their exceptional weathering and light transmission properties. However, their long-lasting architectural performance has demonstrated a broader appeal for more demanding fields of application, including the renewable energy sector.
The future of photovoltaics looks increasingly optimistic, with estimates suggesting the market will exceed $300 million dollars by 2023. This is primarily attributed to lower construction and installation costs for domestic and municipal solar panels; a shift that has been facilitated by new materials like ETFE films.
In this blog post, Saint-Gobain Specialty Films explores solar front sheets in more detail with a focus on the enhanced performance of panels equipped with ETFE films.
A typical solar panel is comprised of numerous photoelectric cells stacked in a single- or multi-junction arrangement. This enables photons to be absorbed and converted into a current by exploiting the photoelectric effect of semiconducting materials. To capitalize on this phenomenon in real-world applications, these electronic materials must be protected with a lamination; traditionally a glass sheet.
Glass is the conventional material of choice due to its excellent light transmission properties. However, significant improvements in polymerization have yielded new materials capable of outperforming glass front sheets in several key areas; namely weight and flexibility.
ETFE films are manufactured from a copolymer of ethylene and tetrafluoroethylene resin, which are extruded into extremely thin sheets. They comprise the excellent chemical and thermal flexibility of standard fluoropolymers with a mechanical performance indicative of engineering-grade plastics. This composite performance is combined with exceptional light transmission properties (90—95% transparency) and excellent ultraviolet light stability.
Front sheet ETFE films provide comparable performance to glass sheets with additional benefits, including significantly reduced weight profiles of both the solar panels and of the supporting structures. This drives down the cost of shipping and installation while supporting general research and development (R&D) into new, flexible solar panel designs. ETFE films are also self-cleaning and can be integrated with a matte surface to minimize the hazards associated with glare reflection from the surface while and maximize light energy capture.
Saint-Gobain Specialty Films is a world-leader in the manufacture and supply of advanced materials for the photovoltaic sector. We have successfully generated a range of solutions for solar module encapsulation, in a bid to help the renewables sector reach grid parity. Our CHEMFILM® front sheet ETFE films can provide appreciable improvements to photovoltaic performance; enabling the construction of flexible modules with class-leading quantum efficiencies.