27 July 2023
Hasselt University and imec spin-off EnFoil unveils thin, flexible CIGS solar panels
Hasselt University (UHasselt) and Leuven-based nanoelectronics research center imec have unveiled the new spin-off EnFoil of Genk, Belgium, which offers pliable, robust solar panels only a few millimeters thick that can be integrated on various surfaces. Initial talks between EnFoil and industry leaders to produce the solar panels and integrate them onto the roofs of trucks are ongoing.
Standard silicon solar panels on rooftops already play an important role but cannot be placed on every surface due to their weight or shape. UHasselt and imec have been investigating new types of solar cells that are easier and cheaper to integrate onto surfaces beyond roofs.
Picture: EnFoil’s Marc Meuris and Bart Van Winkel.
Until now, to integrate solar cells on the surfaces of trucks, buildings or tents, consumers were limited to standard, typically flat products of a pre-defined size, and handled the integration themselves. “This mainly limited the technology to exclusive construction projects, or as an expensive opt-ins for cars. With EnFoil, we aim to change this,” says EnFoil’s chief technology officer Marc Meuris. “We intend to make custom solar foils in any size and shape at a large scale (mass-customization),” he adds. “The solar foils will be directly installed or further integrated into our customers’ products. The production will be done locally and we will guarantee the feasibility and integration of the final products.”
More sustainable and reliable
EnFoil (short for ‘Energy Enabling Foil’) combines technologies and processes that are patented and developed within UHasselt and imec. The thin-film solar cells are based on copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) technology. “This technology offers lightweight, flexibility and impact resistance, which is crucial for many new applications,” says professor Bart Vermang of imo-imomec, imec’s associate lab at UHasselt. “The solar cells achieve almost the same efficiency as standard panels,” he adds.
Ready for production
EnFoil is in ongoing discussions with the industry to bring its solar foil to market. “A wide array of applications will be possible, such as integrating the solar cells on swimming pool covers or roof tiles,” says Meuris. “Currently, we mostly focus on the logistics sector, aiming to integrate our materials on roofs and sidewalls of trucks to power their sensors and track & trace systems. It would save the battery and, under abundant sunlight, the battery could even be charged.”
The project has already received support from the European Research Council through an ERC Proof of Concept. Worth €150,000, the grant aims to bring new technologies to market. With this, UHasselt will recruit a researcher who will continue to work with EnFoil on product development. “The ERC jury includes several industry experts,” notes Vermang. “We therefore see this grant as great recognition and a sign that the industry believes in our product and sees the potential to bring it to the market.”