Aramco seeks to promote plastic-based panels
As part of its nonmetallic strategy, company explores opportunities to deploy plastic-based solar panels.
Nonmetallics aren’t just for oil and gas solutions at Aramco.
As part of its nonmetallic strategy, the company is exploring opportunities to introduce plastic materials in the renewables solar energy industry, and its Consulting Services Department is leading deployment efforts. The main objective is to create a new market for plastics, and consequently, increase demand for crude oil.
Aramco is scouting the market for solar panel manufacturers with promising products that utilize plastic-based components. As a result, Aramco identified a supplier of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) nonmetallic solar panels and advocated for its deployment. This year, the Aramco team reached an important milestone by deploying the first ETFE panels in-Kingdom. The ETFE panels will remain under surveillance to collect energy data and approve its performance and further utilization in future projects in Saudi Arabia.
A progression of solar panels
Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic panels, were created at a commercial level for the first time in 1957. Past progression of the solar panel as a product was mostly driven by innovation of solar cell technology. 70 years ago, a solar panel generated energy with an efficiency below 6%, but decades of development have allowed panels to function today with an efficiency above 20%. In addition to the solar cells, a typical solar panel is composed of multiple layers of different materials for protection and insulation. All components have an important purpose, but the front glass panel is the first barrier of defense for the solar cells against external damage. The front glass sheet also represents approximately 70% of the total weight of a panel, which normally exceeds 20 kg, making installation more complex and less safe. A nonmetallic solar panel can weigh 75% less than a typical glass panel, allowing installation time to be reduced by 40% due to ease of handling, while transportation costs are reduced by 50%.
From a list of alternative plastic candidates, polycarbonate (PC) was also identified as a high potential plastic material to be used in solar panel applications due to its high transparency, very high impact resistance, and low weight. This led Aramco to partner with SABIC to explore PC use in solar panel applications, which is currently conducting extensive test campaigns to develop an innovative PC-based product. Part of the material testing is conducted in-Kingdom at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Aramco Satellite Center), while another significant part of the trials is performed at the Fraunhofer ISE labs in Germany, the leading institute for solar panel research in Europe.
So far, the results and findings have been promising. In parallel to the research and development activities, Aramco has already kicked off collaborations with large international solar panel manufacturers and end-users that have shared the excitement to see a breakthrough in the solar panel material structure, enabled by the utilization of nonmetallic materials.