Konarka and Webasto to integrate Power Plastic into automotive roofs

Konarka and Webasto recently announced a collaboration to further develop Power Plastic organic solar cells for integration into automotive roofs. Webasto is a German automotive roofing system manufacturer and integrator. Konarka's photovoltaics manufacturing approach uses roll-to-roll printing on plastic substrates which could be one technology to eventually make solar widespread by lowering costs enough. Together, the two companies are an excellent match for commercial integration.

Konarka's lightweight, flexible solar is organic and recyclable, and able to be bonded or laminated to many different materials. Its flexible nature and ability to cover nooks and crannies and fill oddly-shaped surfaces, as well as its availability in many colors, will make it a superior option for integration into car roofs for consumers who are image conscious and want elegant integration. Toyota Prius solar roof

Despite having achieved industry leading performance levels, Konarka's Power Plastics efficiencies are still only in the single digits. Developing their organic solar product further with an automotive roof manufacturer will help speed learning opportunities, as a first attempt at commercial installation.

According to Dr. Jörg Löffler, VP of Webasto's Efficiency Technologies Product Group,
the companies will work together to focus on improving the efficiency of the solar cells, from cell processing, power output, and system integration standpoints. Functional samples have already been provided to Webasto for the first climate chamber tests, he says.

Webasto's Panoramic roof systems are under consideration as the first implementation target. They hope to achieve milestones related to "integration, efficiency improvement, and stability during this collaborative effort", Löffler said.

Current Roof Integration

There is much debate on how useful integrating solar into EVs and HEVs is since most consumer automobile owners would charge their vehicles' main batteries at home or directly from the grid. The ability to generate power when located far away from a charging station in an emergency situation is nice, but wouldn't be enough for mainstream adoption.

Since most automotive roof areas aren't large enough for today's solar panels at current efficiencies to generate significant power, topping off batteries during long-term parking in the sun is the most commonly accepted implementation, and the one that makes the most financial sense.

Regardless, automobile manufacturers are integrating solar into current roofs and trunks for a variety of reasons (other than for simply marketing solar or sustainability):

  • Fisker Automotive's " Modern Sunroof " was added to their HEV to avoid wasting energy. Their full-length solar roof charges batteries and runs cooling for the interior cabin.
  • Ford Solar EV feeds energy back to the grid while it's connected during sunny hours, as a credit to the owner's account.
  • Solar Electric Vehicles charges a supplemental battery and a HEV battery to "fuel" the vehicle for longer electrical operation.
  • Toyota's Solar Roof Prius powers an air conditioning fan so it can be operated without turning on the main engine, keeping the interior cooler (using less energy to cool it when occupied).
  • The 2011 Nissan Leaf has a very small spoiler-mounted solar panel in the high level "SL" package that charges the accessory battery with its very small charge. Seemingly useless, it certainly promotes lots

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