Instead, the two men focused six months of R&D into finding the perfect biomaterial. “There is a lot of press on the PLA (polylactic acid) made from corn because it is widely adopted in inexpensive applications. However, the problem we found is that it’s biodegradable,” says Levy. “We created what we thought was a good backsheet from PLA with additives to improve the properties, but failed miserably in testing because it became a compost pile.” Next they began searching for renewable resources that weren’t biodegradable and settled on Nylon 11 made from castor beans. “Nylon 11 is a durable material; in fact it’s better than synthetic nylon and since we can compound and extrude in one step, we can cut the cost and manufacturing time by 25 percent. However, it still didn’t meet requirements, so we thought, ‘how can we make it better?’ The team used Nylon 11 as a matrix and filled it in with mineral powders and cellulosic fibers to create a new, sustainable backsheet,” states Levy.
The next 18 months were spent optimizing the product, which is now being tested by several companies for temperature, humidity and other necessary characteristics. “Right now our product can serve approximately 85 percent of the solar panel market,” says Levy. “The most common type of panel is crystal and silicon-based; however there is 10 to 15 percent of the market that requires a backsheet with zero water-vapor transmission.”
Overall, the team hopes to have the product officially commercialized by this summer while it continues to work on an aluminum-sandwich backsheet that would be impervious to water. Once those projects are complete, the duo plans on moving to the next-lowest solar panel hanging