When talking about alternative energy sources, solar energy is certainly one of the first that comes to mind. In essence, it relies on photovoltaic cells to absorb sunlight. This is then converted to electricity and goes on to be used in homes and industrial plants, for example. A solar panel comprises a multitude of smaller photovoltaic cells, but in order for it to function properly – and for it to be affordable and reliable – it requires petrochemical input such as propylene provided by OMV. Rudi Peters, Global Value Chain Manager Solar at Borealis, tells us everything we need to know about Borealis Quentys™ solar applications and the role of OMV in the overall process.
Quentys™ provides an innovative encapsulant film
In 2017 Borealis and Borouge launched Quentys™ as their umbrella brand for solar grades and products. The aim was to empower and revolutionize the solar energy industry by making applications more affordable, reliable, durable and, ultimately, more widely available. “Solar power has the potential to transform the global electricity industry”, says Maria Ciliberti, Borealis Vice President Marketing & New Business Development. “With our new business model of providing encapsulant film to photovoltaic model makers, we keep discovering innovative ways of making renewable energy sources increasingly viable throughout the world”. This encapsulant film is one of the layers which protects the solar cell and ensures its performance and reliability. It provides optical and electrical transmissivity and keeps out moisture. Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) has been the solar module encapsulant material of choice since the 1980s; in contrast, Quentys™ is based on polyethylene. In order to achieve its aim of becoming one of the leading suppliers to the photovoltaic market, Borealis needs a strong partner and supplier of petrochemical raw materials, and this is where OMV comes into play.
Quentys™ offers numerous advantages compared to traditional encapsulants
With our encapsulant material we are targeting segments in which quality and long-term performance are important, but where module makers were originally hesitant to switch to polyethylene”
Rudi Peters, Global Value Chain Manager Solar at Borealis.
“With our Quentys™ encapsulant film we offer a significantly shorter cycle time than other encapsulants such as Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA)”, Rudi explains. Extensive independent tests have confirmed that the Quentys™ encapsulant extends the lifetime of solar modules and offers increased power output over the lifespan of the module. To put this into perspective, photovoltaic modules using an EVA encapsulant film typically have a degradation of 20% of the electrical output over 25 years. However, tests by the Fraunhofer Institute show that identical photovoltaic modules made with Quentys™ have a degradation of less than 5%. And what is the added value for the end customer? Simply put, additional income. If we take a 50 MW solar project as an example, modules with Quentys™ will generate 82 MW extra electricity over a period of 25 years. Depending on the price of electricity, this can mean additional income of as much as USD 4-8 million over the lifetime of the project.
High-quality backsheets are essential to avoid performance degradation
Alongside encapsulants, so-called solar backsheets are an important component of a solar panel. The backsheet forms the last layer at the bottom of the panel. Think of it like the insulation used in homes or for cables – just as in a building, the insulation is supposed to protect the interior from external factors whilst also preventing energy from being wasted from within. High-quality backsheets are likewise essential to avoid performance degradation and to shield the environment from active electrical elements. A poor quality solar backsheet can cause system degradation, unwanted maintenance, and replacements – all resulting in additional costs. Furthermore, a solar backsheet must protect against ultraviolet radiation, humidity, dryness, wind, and dust, to name just a few. “For backsheets, we promote our Quentys™ polypropylene compound . The biggest advantage is that our solution helps to cut costs for backsheet makers, which is key in today’s photovoltaic market”, argues Rudi.
OMV’s propylene is crucial to the backsheet’s long-term quality performance
The requirements for solar backsheets are quite tough to meet. Special polypropylene compounds have to be designed and this usually increases the costs of the backsheet. “Our product eliminates the compounding effort for the backsheet makers, differentiating it in the market. Using our in-depth knowhow in polymer design and by cooperating with backsheet makers, we have optimized it so that Quentys™ is available in a ‘ready to use’ form for backsheet makers”, asserts Rudi proudly.
The first generation of polypropylene-based compounds contains propylene from OMV, processed in the Borealis plant in Schwechat, Austria. “We have chosen OMV’s propylene because of the quality of the material and OMV’s security of supply – both very important aspects. You have to bear in mind that polypropylene compounds in the backsheet have to last a minimum of 25 years. Having a reliable partner like OMV to supply the polypropylene material used in the Quentys™ is key to the long-term quality performance of the material”, concludes Rudi.