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Materials Science and Engineering Support for Microsystems-Enabled Photovoltaic Grand Challenge Laboratory-Directed Research and Development Project

Sandia’s Coatings and Surface Engineering, Packaging and Polymer Processing, and Organic Materials Science departments in the Materials Engineering Group have provided extensive support for the microsys­tems-enabled photovoltaic (MEPV) grand challenge laboratory-directed research and development (LDRD) project, which is now in its third and final year. Materials Engineering Group materials scientists, precision engineers, and technologists have made vital contributions to optical-component design, fabrication, and assembly—as well as to PV module final-level packaging—with impressive results.

Flexible photovoltaic module draped over a probe tip.

Flexible photovoltaic module draped over a probe tip.

For example:

  • Packaging and Polymer Processing Dept. personnel performed multiple-step assembly and packaging of several generations of MEPV prototype modules, with these modules incorporating two molded polycarbon­ate lenses, the silicon PV cells, a gorilla glass outer lay­er, and other components. These individual elements are adhesively bonded together and fully encapsulat­ed to provide a rugged, high-efficiency PV module.
  • The Materials Engineering Group team helped solve numerous optical design, materials compatibility, and materials assembly issues to properly account for important properties (coefficient of thermal expan­sion mismatches, graded refractive indices, etc.), and developed a set of materials selections (polydi­methylsiloxanes, thermoplastic polyurethanes, etc.) that allowed for void-free encapsulation using a specially designed vacuum lamination process.

The grand challenge LDRD principal investigator (Greg Nielson, MEMS* Technologies Dept.) reports that several institutions are interested in pursuing work with Sandia, including 3 seedling efforts that appear likely to receive follow-on funds to further raise the technology readiness level of this potentially world-changing solar-energy technology.

*  micro electro-mechanical systems

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