Ascent Solar Technologies Inc., one of the world’s top thin-film solar cell companies, has just announced the launch of its first solar power backpack for the consumer market. The new the EnerPlex Packr™ integrates Ascent’s proprietary thin film solar technology, and if you decide to get one of these puppies for yourself, go ahead and give yourself a big thumbs-up for paying your taxes…you built this!
That’s right, Ascent has received support from us taxpayers for its R&D efforts in the form of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Thin Film Photovoltaic Partnership, as well as participation in the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) Low-Cost Lightweight Portable Photovoltaics Project and a lift from the Air Force Small Business Innovative Research program.
Ascent’s EnerPlex Packr Solar Backpack
At a price of $99 on the EnerPlex website (EnerPlex is the brand set up by Ascent to market its thin film solar products), the Packr is a bit of a bite, but it’s not that much more than you’d expect to pay for a quality backpack without solar power.
The Packr comes with a 3-watt solar panel made with Ascent’s proprietary thin film technology, along with a standard USB output, arranged so that you can plug it into your device and draw solar power while you’re still walking around.
That’s obviously more handy for walking about in solar-friendly California rather than taking a night hike through a deep forest, but add a bit of storage capacity and Bob’s your uncle.
Also recall the DARPA connection to Ascent, and that brings up an interesting angle. In 2010, the Army started using 62-watt portable solar “blankets” that could be tucked into a backpack. Ascent’s solar backpack takes it to the next logical step by using the backpack as a platform for solar power, too. That adds an important mobility factor to the portability concept.
Ascent’s CIGS Technology
Named one of Time’s “Best Inventions of 2011,” Ascent’s main contribution to the thin film market is a highly efficient, relatively low cost manufacturing process for thin film solar cells based on a semiconductor material called CIGS for Copper indium gallium (di)selenide. Ascent describes it this way:
Our proprietary, monolithically integrated processing techniques take CIGS to production on high-temperature plastic substrate that can survive the manufacturing temperatures associated with thin-film CIGS processing, while remaining flexible and electrically insulating. The insulating features of the plastics make it possible to connect individual cells into modules during processing.
The practically limitless application of Ascent’s CIGS thin film is already beginning to show. Aside from the backpacks, Ascent has been active in the solar tent market. That alone has a wide-ranging application in recreation, disaster relief and military operations to say nothing of outdoor fairs and festivals.
As for a recently announced partnership between Ascent and the Denver Broncos football team, don’t get too excited. They’re not going to plaster the stadium in CIGS, it’s just an advertising and promotion gig.
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