Ohio Third Frontier Funds Case Western Reserve’s Research Collaboration with Replex Plastics

Plan is to further develop and improve mirror-augmented photovoltaic system products as vital alternative energy source

News Release: Friday, February 11, 2011

CLEVELAND - Case Western Reserve University will receive $899,818 for research, in collaboration with an Ohio company, aimed at using mirrors to increase light intensity on flat-panel modules for solar photovoltaic energy systems.

This technology should result in power gains, lower costs and improved system reliability. The funding is part of the state program's fiscal year 2011 Ohio Third Frontier Photovoltaics Program Awards.

Photovoltaic systems are designed to harness the sun’s energy in order to produce cost effective, renewable energy. Augmenting typical flat panels with mirrors makes possible greater capture of the sun’s energy at less cost. But the critical issue remains: Do mirrors, reflecting the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun, reduce system lifetime in mirror-augmented photovoltaic (MAPV) systems?

The two-year project is named Mirror-Augmented Solar Photovoltaic Systems: Durability and Lifetime Validation. The research seeks to better identify degradation mechanisms of photovoltaic materials and components to ensure a reliable and long lifetime for MAPV systems.

The Case School of Engineering research will establish indoor and outdoor solar irradiation along with spectroscopic measurement capabilities. Anticipated are the university’s first two-axis solar trackers and instrumentation for exposing MAPV materials, components and systems to solar and environmental degradation under realistic and accelerated operating conditions.

Case Western Reserve is collaborating with an Ohio company, Replex Plastics, in Mount Vernon, to test MAPV system products. As part of a prior OTF-funded project, Replex developed solar mirrors that show the potential to double annual kilowatt-hour output of commercially available flat panel modules.

"Photovoltaics can contribute to solving our future energy needs, but the critical issue of the durability of photovoltaics is one of the great uncertainties restricting our nation's investments in solar power," said Roger H. French, F. Alex Nason Professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering at Case Western Reserve.

French, principal investigator, came to Case Western Reserve last August after a 24-year career at DuPont as a research fellow. He was the first addition in the university’s recent engineering strategic hiring initiative.

Replex mirrors cost a tenth of modules on an added per-watt peak basis. But concerns about durability have plagued the mirror augmented photovoltaic sector ever since severe degradation of mirror-augmented PV was noted in California at Carissa Plains during the 1980s. The problem caused PV manufacturers to void their warranties if mirrors are used to increase the light exposure.

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Case Western Reserve now plans to study the degradation of materials in MAPV systems. Replex expects the research will provide proof that use of its UV-absorbing mirror increases light exposure on a flat-panel module and will result in ample power gain, but will not result in premature failure.

CWRU and Replex will address four technical areas:

(1) Testing and qualification of mirrors with sufficient durability to withstand solar radiation and environmental exposure for more than 20 years.
(2) Testing and qualification of PV modules from several suppliers with mirror-augmentation to withstand increased solar radiation with little or no increase in degradation rate.
(3) Testing and qualification of MAPV systems.
(4) Optimization of an MAPV system design for both fixed-mount and tracking PV strategies.

“If we are successful, this project will not only benefit Ohio’s own growing PV industry, but will provide important information to the industry as a whole,” said Mark Schuetz, Replex Plastics owner and president. “It’s exciting to think we’re making an international impact right here in Ohio.”

French says concurrent lab and outdoor exposure testing will provide sufficient evidence to cause module manufacturers to develop sensible warranties, which should be applicable to Replex’s mirror augmentation systems. Replex anticipates the creation of at least 16 mirror manufacturing jobs in Ohio within five years due to greater demand for MAPV system products.

Posted by: Marvin Kropko, February 11, 2011 05:31 PM | News Topics: Official Release