Develop photovoltaic solar energy solutions capable of transforming everyday objects into self-powered objects
Silicon is today widely accepted as a suitable material for photovoltaic applications. So much so that 90% of all solar collectors manufactured are made from silicon. However, there are also solar cells made from other, organic, materials that offer greater potential to reduce costs—even when you take into account the lower conversion yields of these materials. Organic materials also have the advantage of being able to rapidly meet demand for self-powering systems for mobile devices and outdoor equipment—a market that is expected to grow exponentially. The project partners—Ardeje, Hutchinson, and CEA-INES—joined forces to develop new, low-cost energy sources leveraging organic materials. Their strategy was to use Ardeje’s contactless printing techniques to deposit the PV cells’ various functional layers. Because contactless printing is so flexible, it opens the door to organic solar cells of virtually any shape that can be applied to either flexible or rigid surfaces.
Limitless design possibilities for self-powered objects. The project is an excellent example of what can happen when a publicly funded research lab, CEA-INES, partners with private-sector businesses, Ardeje and Hutchinson. Back in 2005, Ardeje had developed a machine capable of printing on both planar and non-planar surfaces. Hutchinson had built up substantial know-how in transforming elastomers for PV cells and encapsulating the cells for higher yields and longer lifespans. CEA-INES focused on ink formulation, module architecture, and performance assessment. The final year of the project was marked by the development of the actual printing equipment used to make PV cells to the specifications drawn up for the project. Since the project was completed, Ardeje has spun off a new company, Dracula Technologies, to commercialize the PV cell printing equipment.
Dracula Technologies, in which Ardeje holds a 65% stake, was founded in late 2011. The company will commercialize the printing equipment developed under the Solarjet project. In 2013 the company reported revenue of €150,000 and had four full-time employees, including one integration project manager tasked with developing PV panel connectors and electronics. Proof-of-concept tests on two separate solutions based on the same technology—Dracula Power for PV applications and Dracula Lighting for electroluminescent systems—have been completed.
The company also built a demonstrator in partnership with sporting goods manufacturer Raidlight for the 2013 Marathon des Sables. This led to the commercialization in 2014 of a flexible solar panel weighing in at just 35 grams that can be used to charge small electronic devices. In the medium term, Dracula Technologies is determined to become a provider of custom B-to-B-to-C solutions for energy mobility.
The project marked the completion of a crucial step in the development of complete organic solar cell production system in France that demonstrated its capacity to:
- Deposit the various PV cell layers
- Come up with liquid forms of the functional
- Develop a substrate
- Modify the encapsulation
ARDEJEis continuing to move forward with its own R&D through new R&D partnerships such as the Sfumato project targeting a new generation of organic PV modules. And, as a partner of the EU Smartblind project, Ardeje is adapting its technology to tomorrow’s smart windows.