The name Corning immediately brings to mind images of ceramic and glass cookware, the company that developed CorningWare, Corning Inc. has developed numerous breakthroughs in glass and ceramics, including Pyrex. However, Corning now is developing new specialty glass products in order to meet the needs of the thin-film photovoltaic (PV) industry.
Last week, the company announced that it will spend approximately $180 million to expand its manufacturing facility in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, to enter into the thin-film (PV) market and expand its Gorilla glass manufacturing capabilities. The company contended that the specialty glass will “greatly improve the solar module’s energy conversion efficiency and reduce weight while maintaining product strength and long-term reliability.”
The company said its experience creating glass substrates for LCD screens, like its Gorilla glass, and its expertise in materials science and light management, makes the company an ideal producer of glass for thin-film PV products.
In addition to ultimately being cheaper to produce and using less materials than crystalline silicon PVs, thin-film PVs also are attractive because of their light weight. While some thin-film PV cells and modules are encased in plastics or flexible substrates, others are covered with glass. Ensuring that the glass used to protect the PV cells from weather and other factors is important. Glass used to protect thin-film PVs needs to be as impact resistant as possible, long-lasting, and lightweight, making it easier to install the solar modules.
The company already is testing glass substrates for their impact resistance. For instance, in a demonstration video on Corning’s web site, a researcher shoots a piece of ice (representing a hail ball to simulate real world conditions PV modules must face) at a 4 millimeter-thick piece of glass at 50 MPH without shattering it.
Gary Calabrese, vice-president, science and technology and director of Corning’s Photovoltaic Glass Technologies said the company already has seen significant interest in the specialty glass from industry manufacturers.
“Thin-film photovoltaic technology is a rapidly advancing solution within the fast-growing solar energy industry and plays to Corning’s strengths in flat glass, materials science, and light management,” he said.