Researching solar cells and silicon-based materials

Paul Boughton
Dow Corning, a leader in silicones, silicon-based technology and innovation, today announced the completion of its new state-of-the-art research and development facility in Seneffe, Belgium. The Solar Energy Exploration and Development (SEED) centre includes a Solar Application Center and a Silicone Synthesis Technology Center.

The 9 million Euro (US$13 million ) addition to Dow Corning’s global innovation capacity aims to advance research in new silicon-based materials and solar cell efficiency.

“This investment will accelerate innovation and growth,” said Dr Gregg A Zank, vice president and chief technology officer of Dow Corning Corporation. “By having this facility in Belgium, we will have access to very talented scientific people throughout Europe to work collaboratively on sound science and technology to develop sustainable products and applications for our customers.”

“The completion of the SEED research center marks another milestone in Dow Corning’s investments in Europe,” says Klaus Hoffmann, president, Europe, Middle-East and Africa. “Europe provides access to a highly-skilled workforce and a broad variety of research and innovation resources. SEED’s addition to our European network demonstrates the regions’ strategic importance for the company’s success.” Last week, Dow Corning announced the completion of its 32,000 m2 European distribution center, a €30m+ investment.

The SEED complex was designed and built with sustainability in mind, using novel Dow Corning technologies as well as clean energy sources to achieve some of the highest energy efficiency standards. It acts as a showcase for the extensive possibilities of energy-efficient architecture:

Dow Corning’s new Vacuum Insulation Panels (VIP) cover the entire construction, providing high insulating value in materials up to five times thinner than conventional insulation products, enabling maximal use of internal space.

The centre uses geothermal energy, coupled with a heat pump, for heating and cooling.

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), a set of PV modules mounted as sun screens in front of the windows, reduce the need for cooling in the office area and simultaneously serve as power generators.

Using Dow Corning’s structural glazed facade technology, the complex’s large, modern windows allow for more natural daylight in the building, while retaining insulation efficiency.

Dow Corning’s Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) reduce the need for cooling in the office area and serve as power generators.

This combination of technologies has a measurable impact on the new facilities’ environmental footprint:

Heating costs are anticipated to be 75 per cent lower and electricity costs 7075 per cent lower than an equivalent conventional construction.

An air-recycling system will allow the SEED laboratories to achieve a 65% energy gain compared to conventionally designed labs, representing a saving of 290 tons of CO2 per year.

“We have used and prototyped many of Dow Corning’s innovations and novel applications, pushing the limits of technical possibilities in optimizing energy use for a laboratory facility, and answering the sustainability demands of new construction standards,” says Patrick De Graeve, managing project engineer at Group IPS, the architects who designed the SEED.

Installation of lab equipment in the facilities has started, and research activities within the SEED are expected to start in the first half of 2012.

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