Making green greener: Bio-based solar panels for smart buildings
Ten years from now, 32 % of the EU’s energy mix should be from renewable sources. This is the ambitious, binding goal set out in the recast Renewable Energy Directive, part of the EU’s 2019 Clean energy for all Europeans package. Along with a focus on renewable energy, the package also seeks to boost energy performance in buildings; buildings are responsible for approximately 40 % of energy consumption, making them the single largest energy consumer in Europe. As regards renewable energy, solar power today provides an important contribution to the EU’s energy mix, representing 3.6 % of EU-28 gross electricity generation in 2017. However, despite continued growth of the market, current solar energy technologies, such as photovoltaics (PV) in solar cells and panels, have some prominent disadvantages that hinder their widespread adoption. In addition to being sunlight and battery dependent, they contain hazardous materials that add an environmental impact to their production and disposal. They are also often large and inflexible in size, making them difficult to integrate into existing building structures, reducing their market applications. Proton New Energy Future, a Spanish company has found a solution: PRO-S®, the first flexible, recyclable and reusable PV module.
Breakthrough technology to support the circular economy
The company recently completed the EU-funded PRO-S project, which included a recyclability and life-cycle assessment of the module’s pioneering technology. PRO-S® is based on a patented formula that uses bacterial proteins to absorb visible and ultraviolet light, making it capable of producing electricity even under low solar radiation conditions. This allows the module to obtain much higher efficiency than standard PV panels on cloudy as well as sunny days. For project coordinator Cristina Oliva, the most important innovation that PRO-S® brings to the market is reusability. “While solar panels are currently recycled, it is a very expensive process both economically and in terms of energy,” she says. Unlike other PVs, PRO-S ® is 100 % recyclable. PRO-S®’s protein-based technology means that no batteries are needed to store the generated energy, which avoids the exploitation of resources connected with lithium-ion batteries and the related price fluctuations. “The most important thing about this project is the path to the circular economy,” explains Oliva. “Just because a product generates renewable energy, it does not mean that it is sustainable: while the energy is sustainable, the product itself needs resources to be manufactured and recycled – we must never forget this point.” Finally, the module is opaque and customisable, a feature Oliva highlights as key to the product’s application and uptake: “PRO-S® is primarily intended to add value to buildings”, she says, “not only in terms of its aesthetics, but also its ability to generate energy even in shadows.” The PRO-S® panels can also be recycled and reused at the end of their useful life. Following the successful feasibility studies implemented during the PRO-S project, the company will continue its efforts to make the PRO-S® module ready for the market. This will include scheduling pilot tests in realistic operational environments and raising awareness of the product and its advantages among construction companies. Feedback from potential customers will also make it possible to evaluate whether the commercial strategy needs to be modified – or if the product is ready to hit the market and start inspiring change towards greener renewable energy solutions.
PRO-S, buildings, renewable energy, PV, solar panel, photovoltaic, circular economy, solar power, Proton New Energy Future