“Energetica India: Can you please introduce Energetica India readers to Agfa?
Dirk Slegers:With its consumable and software solutions Agfa is a leading company in the graphic arts and healthcare industries as well as in niche markets including printed circuit boards and synthetic papers. More recently Agfa entered the solar PV market. With a global presence in over 100 countries, the 2017 turnover totalled EUR 2.4 billion while R&D investments was around EUR 140 million.
“Energetica India:What made Agfa enter the PV market?”
Dirk Slegers:Agfa has an annual polyester production capacity of around 300 million sqm. This PET is not sourced but produced in-house from raw chemical materials (terephtalic acid and ethylene gycol) to finished film with total control over ingredients selection and process quality. Following the decline of volumes in traditional photographic films, the liberated production capacity is now used for the production of newly developed products including UNIQOAT the PET-based backsheet solution.
“Energetica India:Is not too late to enter the PV backsheet market considering the strong decline of prices and aggressive cost competition?”
Dirk Slegers:For a backsheet converter that would have been too late, no doubt. Converters tend to be limited in their product development capabilities which condemn them to manufacturing me-too products based on lamination of sourced film layers. It has pushed them in a fierce cost battle whereby they initially replaced the very expensive PVF films with less costly PVDF and standard electrical grade PET films. Gradually also the thickness of the layers had to be ‘optimised’ to reduce cost – this is the point where the reliability of the module comes at risk.
When entering the PV backsheet market, Agfa initially followed the same reasoning and focused on making popular products at lower cost. It soon became clear that this approach was a dead end and that Agfa’s power lies in its R&D competence to develop innovative technology concepts that bring benefit on longer term, like our single-layer backsheet, for instance.
“Energetica India:What is innovative about the single-layer concept?”
Dirk Slegers:The fundamental difference is that this backsheet consists of only one single layer of High grade PET and yet offers fully certified backsheet functionality and meets all IEC standards. Considering that since the late seventies the backsheet conversion industry has developed only variations on the same lamination concept, the single-layer in itself is a major break-through innovation.
“Energetica India:What are the benefits of a single-layer structure?”
Dirk Slegers:The benefits are multiple and play on different levels. Let me highlight a few. A single-layer structure fundamentally eliminates the risk of backsheet delamination, which better serves durability and reliability of the solar module compared to laminated backsheet.
Regarding durability, it is relevant to mention that the adhesion strength between the layers of laminated backsheet reach on average between 4 and 6 N/cm only. This makes multi-layer laminated backsheets the weakest link in a module in terms of adhesion strength since the adhesion between EVA and backsheet will achieve on average 80 N/cm. With the single-layer backsheet available, module manufacturers should no longer accept the extremely low interlayer adhesion of laminated backsheet.
To the benefit of manufacturers and installers the single-layer backsheet is damage-proof. Accidental damage on the air side of a module can happen during installation or even manufacturing. Perforation of today’s very thin air side of laminated backsheet will directly expose the core PET to UV radiation. This will make the PET brittle and cause accelerated degradation of the module. The same damage will have no major impact on the durability of a module using a single-layer backsheet because it enjoys all required functional properties throughout the full material thickness: every part of the backsheet is resistant to all potential challenges.
“Energetica India:Do all these benefits make single-layer backsheet more expensive compared to multi-layer?”
Dirk Slegers:No. Agfa offers the single-layer backsheet at comparable pricing of polymer-based laminated backsheet. Additionally, we consider the single-layer better equipped to survive the ongoing cost down pressure thanks to Agfa’s proprietary single-step manufacturing process. Whereas laminated backsheet requires sequential production steps that include labour and consumables for the lamination, and time and energy for the curing of the adhesives, our production process delivers ready-for-use backsheet in one single integrated step.
When talking about cost also the full life-cycle of modules should be considered including their dismantling and recycling. The single-layer offers benefit also in that respect since it consists of one single homogenous material and does not include any solvent-based adhesives. The single-layer backsheet therefor also serves the environment, and isn’t that what renewable energy is all about?
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