Dye Sensitized Cells: Materials, Applications and Opportunites – 2011

28 Sep 2011 • by Natalie Aster

DSC still has a long way to go to become a sizable PV market. At the present, among DSC manufacturers, only G24i has achieved the level of manufacturing volume that is necessary for us to feel comfortable speaking of "production" module efficiencies, and those are at 1.0 percent efficient per specification, or 1.9% if measuring just over the active aperture area.

Even so, advances in efficiencies, new materials and encapsulation technologies are increasing the likelihood of DSC’s success. And the low-cost printing processes and equipment used to make DSC devices could allow DSC to remain fairly low in cost, even when produced in small factories, an advantage over other PV technologies, which rely on large volume manufacturing to lower costs.

The on-grid BIPV market will dominate DSC through 2018, accounting for nearly 95% of all revenues. Within the BIPV segment, revenues from the BIPV roofing/siding market will be about 1.5 times the size of revenues earned from BIPV glass. Meanwhile, the revenues from the specialist materials used in DSC will reach $781 million by 2016 and climb to $2.6 billion by 2018.

The report “Dye Sensitized Cells: Materials, Applications and Opportunites - 2011” by NanoMarkets focuses exclusively on the DSC space. In addition to analyzing the opportunities for this technology in the BIPV and mobile PV space, the report appraises the strategies of the main firms active in this space. As with all NanoMarkets reports, it also provides an eight-year forecast for the DSC sector by volume and value of shipments.

Report Details:

Dye Sensitized Cells: Materials, Applications and Opportunites - 2011

Published: April 2011
Price: US$ 2,795.00

Report Sample Abstract

Advances of the Material Kind

There continue to be possibilities for breakthroughs in the DSC area at this early stage of and we see materials as having the biggest potential for new business opportunities going forward:

  • DSCs contain expensive ruthenium-based dyes, but ruthenium is quite rare and there is the risk of price fluctuations and supply problems. Chlorophyll derivatives, copper-based dyes, inorganic nanoparticles dispersed on the surface of the titania host, and mixed "cocktails" of various dyes are being investigated as alternatives. Sony and Peccell have both been active in the alternative dye space.
  • Recently, in some cases DSC dyes have been selected based on color instead of performance, thus using DSC for decoration and aesthetics in addition to power production. Sony, Nissha Printing, and Aisin-Seiki/Toyota have reported such activity.
  • The electrolyte is where the most substantial materials developments are taking place in DSC. The standard iodine-based electrolytes work well, but introduce two problems; they are liquids that require containment and are difficult to print, and they are very dark in color, impacting aesthetics and the ability to make transparent DSC cells. Alternatives include ionic liquids (transparency and higher viscosity) from BASF, Merck, and Solaronix; and printable paste electrolytes (flexibility with easier containment) from Oxford Photovoltaics and SolarPrint.
  • The platinum paste catalyst is the second most costly component of DSC cells on a per gram basis and significant quantities are used. Carbon paste is now emerging as an effective alternative, with materials being developed by Solaronix and Peccell.
  • Effective encapsulation for long-term durability presents the greatest challenge and consequently the greatest opportunity for DSC markets and is critical for its use in BIPV applications. Encapsulation suppliers and developers will find a need for commercialized films targeted towards DSC at all levels, from short-lived products that nonetheless require reliability during their short lifetimes, to the most advanced solutions that enable DSC-based flexible BIPV to become a high-volume market.
  • Tandem cells consisting of two cells stacked one on top of the other are a way to increase the conversion efficiency of DSC. However, the increased conversion efficiency is relatively small and comes at a significant cost—one that may be too high given the extreme sensitivity of many DSC markets to cost.

Emerging Economics of DSC

Overall macroeconomic drivers will help DSC as they will all PV technologies, including an improving economy (if that is what we have), and growing interest in alternatives to nuclear energy in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima power plant in Japan.

And with the certification by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) of Sony's DSC champion cell at 9.9 percent in August 2010, DSC has begun to break away from OPV in terms of performance and is opening up opportunities in larger addressable markets.

Currently, G24i is the only company shipping DSC products in any quantity. It offers a portable solar charger, some charging solar bags, and solar-powered devices including a keyboard and a remote control. Japanese company TDK had a product of its own, but presently it is unclear whether that product is still being sold.

For the next few years, DSC will be found mostly in such off-grid applications because they are easier to market and there is not the overwhelming competition that DSC would face in other markets. Examples of off-grid applications include standalone solar chargers, PV-powered mobile devices, prodcuts where PV power would compete with single-use batteries, and thin applications like smartcards, calculators and other simple electronic devices, toys, wristwatches, clocks and headsets.

In their business development efforts, companies such as G24i and 3GSolar are specifically focusing on lesser developed countries (LDCs) where electricity grids are primitive or do not exist. Opportunities are also expanding in developed regions as off-grid applications get less power hungry. But while high profit margins are possible in these markets, DSC will be competing with other forms of flexible PV and the volumes of DSC materials consumed per unit are small.

But for DSC to develop into a reasonably-sized market, it will have to move into bigger and better applications. Ultimately DSC is likely to find its biggest markets in the BIPV industry, where DSC can exploit its flexibility, transparency and (especially) its ability to do reasonably well in relatively poor light conditions. Recent activities suggest progress is being made:

  • Dyesol and Pilkington formed an alliance to develop BIPV glass;
  • Dyeseol and Corus (part of Tata Steel) initiated a joint project to develop continuous manufacturing for a DSC-on-steel product for roofing markets;
  • Fujikara announced in 2011 a low-light DSC module designed for indoor energy harvesting;
  • Oxford Photovoltaics is targeting the BIPV space;
  • Sony has been experimenting with the aesthetics of DSC modules and developing artistic and decorative patterns; a design direction that only really makes sense in the context of BIPV;
  • The Dyesol-Timo JV plans to target BIPV applications in 2014.

The challenges that these companies must overcome include the low power and shorter lifetimes of DSC compared to other PV technologies and the fact that its lower cost compared to these technologies is often lost in the overall higher cost of the building materials. However, DSC’s transparency (for solar glass) and flexibility (for roofing and siding applications) are notable benefits in this segment.

Beyond portable chargers and BIPV, there are other potential applications for DSC, such as in signage, and especially for signs that need to be powered by indoor ambient light including retail displays like electronic shelf labels and other point-of-purchase displays. PV-powered clothing for charging devices or with other kinds of electronic functionality may be a large application in the flexible PV segment; flexible PV-powered bags or flexible "skins" could also emerge. Several companies are also investigating the use of DSC PV for various sensing applications.

Positive Indicators

Expansion at the leading DSC firm, growing numbers of DSC developers, and the entrance of new materials suppliers all point to growing interest and expectations for the DSC market.

Dyesol remains something of a bellwether of the DSC industry and was able to increase sales and attract additional investment in 2010. Furthermore, the expansion of this firm over the past couple of years—especially in terms of the alliances it has formed with both very large and smaller companies that emphasize technical improvements, work on new applications and important distribution agreements—also speaks well for the future of the DSC industry.

This expansion at Dyesol has been accompanied by an increase in the number of firms taking an active part in the DSC space. Other notable players include Everlight Chemical, Peccell Technologies, Solar Print, and Solaronix. There are also several module producers, with many reaching the pilot plant stage: 3GSola, Acrosol, Fujikura, G24 Innovations (G24i), Nissha Printing Company, Ltd., NLAB, Oxford Photovoltaics, Sony, Dyesol-Timo, and Toyota.

On the supply side, a number of the largest specialty chemicals/materials firms in the world are working in this field, and while none have made DSC a core business in any sense, their support must be regarded as adding credibility to DSC. BASF, Fujikura, Merck, Showa Denko, Sony and Umicore are key examples.

More information can be found in the report “Dye Sensitized Cells: Materials, Applications and Opportunites - 2011” by NanoMarkets.

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