Heliatek to Build New Solar Film Plant

By Charles W. Thurston | November 9, 2016

Dresden-based Heliatek, which is refining organic photovoltaic cells for its HeliaFilm,  recently raised $88 million in mixed funding to increase its roll-to-roll manufacturing capacity to one million square meters of film per year. The company aims to promote use of its film in the building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) market and in the automotive industry.

The new funding will yield a new 1.2m-wide roll-to-roll system, apart from the existing  30cm line that has been in operation since 2012, producing 250nm thick flexible photovoltaic film. The film is lightweight, flexible, and effective at harvesting solar energy under low light conditions, yet is more stable under higher temperatures that traditional silicon solar cells.

Among contributors to the funding were: fund lead innogy; Engie; BNP Paribas; CEE Group; AQTON; BASF; eCAPITAL; HTGF; TUDAG and Wellington Partners. The total included a loan of €20 million from the European Investment Bank under its EU Finance for Innovators (InnovFin) program, which is a joint initiative by the EIB and the European Commission.

The company reports that it has achieved a 13.2 percent cell efficiency from a multi-junction cell with three absorber layers in lab, compared with current silicon solar cell efficiencies in the high 20 percent range. Heliatek now produces solar film at an 8.2 percent efficiency, and aims to boost the efficiency by roughly two percent per year until 2018, when large scale production is planned. The company is developing molecules that absorb ultraviolet light, to be included in it film along with molecules it has already developed to absorb infrared wave lengths.

The production process involves vacuum deposition guided by laser in a plastic film, which is manufactured as a roll-to-roll product. The film is comprised of homogenous layers of small-molecule oligomers combined at low temperatures without the use of solvents, which printing processes require. Heliatek said that it deposits one gram of organic material per square meter, which makes it a low cost solar competitor.

Company CEO Thibaud Le Seguillon said in an interview after the new funding, “We know we are going to be copied but we want to make it difficult for friendly competition. The only way we are going to keep being the world leader is through R&D.”

Heliatek was created in July 2006 by the Technical University of Dresden (IAPP) and the University of Ulm. The company’s founding brought together internationally renowned expertise in the fields of organic optoelectronics and organic oligomer synthesis. In 2011 the company won the German Future Prize and in 2015, the World Economic Forum anointed Heliatek as a Technology Pioneer.

According to a Bloomberg profile, Heliatek’s partner, vTrium Energy, is implementing a showcase BIPV project in Singapore that is also the largest BIPV project in Asia. The project is funded and supported by Jurong Town Corp. (JTC) and the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board of Singapore (Springs). Some 12 kW of HeliaFilm will be installed on different parts of JTC’s Cleantech Park 1 and 2, as well as along the Seletar Aerospace walkway. The film will be installed in different colors on glass, on steel and on curved polycarbonate, with several versions of transparency ranging from full opaque to 15 percent or 30 percent transparency levels. The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore will monitor the project.