Removing Oil from Renewable Tech

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plastic is made from petroluem

Renewable energy is expanding quickly these days. But it’s still a fact that these technologies rely on petroleum and petroleum products for transportation and production. Now that is starting to change. A solar panel producer called BioSolar has replaced a vital component of their silicon panels with a cheaper petroleum-free alternative.

Silicon panels require a protective backsheet to keep out moisture and protect the panel. Usually this backsheet is made from plastic, and practically all traditional plastics are petroleum-based. BioSolar’s backsheet is made from cotton rags and castor beans. They turn the cotton rags into a film of cellulose and blend in nylon made from the beans. The resulting cover lasts just as long or longer than the plastic blacksheet, and they keep out the moisture too. BioSolar also avoids genetically-modified crops.

The best part about it is the cost: up to 50% less than traditional plastic backsheets. As the price of petroleum and petroleum-products rise, this alternative starts to look more lucrative than altruistic.

petroleum-free solarDespite removing the plastic from panels, this is not a complete divorce from fossil fuels. Producing the parts for solar and wind energy still take energy, and the finished product must still be transported to consumers.  The majority of that energy is still sourced from fossil fuels. Obviously the larger your bits and pieces, the more energy this requires.

Biosolar has proven that petroleum products are not necessary to produce renewable energy. As renewable technology and biofuels expand into the market, it will become increasingly cheaper and easier to make renewable energy more renewable.


Images: “Plastic (Blue)” by tanakawho via Flickr Creative Commons; Backsheet image via BioSolar’s website

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