Since their commercialisation in the 1970s PV panels have been sold in rigid, rectangular formats.
Integrating them into cloth enables a much more versatile application. In 1966, Charles A. Escoffery of the International Rectifier Corporation in El Segundo obtained patent US3255047A for a “Flexible fabric support structure for PV cells” Six years later, Escoffery had toured both the United States and Europe with a 1910 Baker Electric automobile which he had outfitted with a panel of solar cells as an advertisement for International Rectifier Corporation.
In 2014, Alain Janet, a sailmaker of Mandelieu-la-Napoule in the Alpes-Maritimes department in southeastern France, innovated SolarSailCloth, with the thickness of a banknote and flexible enough to be rolled in a tube.
He then developed a machine in a “clean room” enabling the integration of layers of very thin (25 to 65 microns) films within laminated or woven textiles. Its applications are widespread: on the sea for zero emission racing and cruising boats; on the land for tents for refugees or agricultural projects; and in the air for stratospheric scientific probe balloons.
In 2018, SolarSailcloth teamed up with UK Sailmakers make a 1kW Power Sail) as part of the 380Z production zero emission sailboat built by Arcona of Sweden, with its motor from Finnish electric engine manufacturer Oceanvolt, SuperB lithium batteries and Victron regulators from the Netherlands.
In 2015, in partnership with the American leader MiaSolé, manufacturer of these multi-junction cells, Solar Cloth System has greatly improved the performance of its solar panels. The new cells, using 4 different sensor metals to harvest solar radiation from a wide range of brightness, offer 17% efficiency, almost similar to rigid panels.
With the textile integration of SolarCloth System, the result is the best weight / load capacity ratio on the market. With a peak power of 170W / m² and an average weight of 500 g / m², the energy density is 340 W / kg. The semi-flexible solar panels on the market are around 70 W / kg and the rigid 13W / kg. That year the French Government awarded SolarClothSail 1st Prize at the ADEME Innovation-Growth Competition. (solarclothsystem.com)
Also in France, Hubert de Boisredon and a team at the ink and print cartridge manufacturer Armor, in Nantes, (Loire-Atlantique) France, collaborating with the National Institute of Solar Energy (INES), have developed an ultra-thin, durable and very light solar film (450 g / m²) called Asca.
Its flexibility allows it to marry rounded or complex shapes and to cover domes. Its translucence allows it to be placed on glass surfaces such as agricultural greenhouses such as conventional panels, Asca contains elements of organic origin and not rare metals making it perfectly recyclable.
A production tool has been designed, capable of producing 10.7 million ft² (1 million m²) of Asca film per year. In Togo, West Africa, Armor has partnered with UNESCO to provide more than 200 schoolchildren with solar kits. A pocket fitted with Asca film allows children to charge a mobile lamp during the school day so that in the evening they have the essential light to study, in a region where access to energy is sorely lacking.
Discover Solution 343: Wind-powered ships
Support 366solutions on Patreon and receive the ‘366solutions Insider Newsletter’ with updates on the monthly progress and successes of published solutions.