Scotch Tape Maker on a Roll with Low Cost Solar “Tape”

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3M wins SunShot grant to develop Ultra Barrier Solar FilmThe world would be quite a different place without Scotch tape or, for that matter, duct tape, and if history is any indicator then some time in the sparkling green future another kind of “tape” will be found in just about every household in America – not in a kitchen drawer, but on just about every sunny rooftop. That’s because 3M, the same company which brought us the ubiquitous Scotch and duct tapes, has just won a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to speed up the development and commercialization of its new thin film solar technology, Ultra Barrier Solar Film.

3M’s Thin Film Solar Technology

3M introduced its Ultra Barrier Solar Film last October. The moisture-resistant film is designed to replace the glass used in conventional thin film solar panels, thereby eliminating the need to use metal rack systems. Without racks, installation costs are generally lower, and this is a factor in reducing the overall cost of the technology (it should be noted, though, that turnkey modular systems can also help reduce installation costs).  To add a little green jobs frosting to the cake, 3M plans to expand an existing plant in Missouri to manufacture the new film.

SunShot Grants for Renewable Energy

The Department of Energy’s Sunshot Program is the source of 3M’s development grant for the new technology. SunShot is a reference to the Apollo “moonshot” project, the all-out race to the moon spearheaded by NASA. With SunShot, DOE is aiming to stimulate a similar kind of urgency, providing support for the private sector to create low cost renewable energy that is cost-competitive with fossil fuels. 3M’s contribution is to develop a cost-effective method for producing high efficiency CIGS [copper indium gallium (di)selenide] thin films, widely regarded as one of the most promising technologies for bringing that goal within reach.

Pesky Meddling Government Energy Programs

Sunshot was launched just weeks before the disastrous tsunami and earthquake in Japan, a natural catastrophe that has devolved into a manmade calamity due to the damage it caused to the Fukushima nuclear power facility. Sunshot was initially conceived in order to transition the U.S. more rapidly out of fossil fuels, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and disentangle ourselves from global oil politics. Now it seems that a major result of the program will be to transition us away from high risk nuclear energy as well.

Image: 3M Scotch tape by jepoirrier on

Update: An earlier version of this article was previously posted in error (it had window in the first paragraph, should have been rooftop).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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