Frames of Steel: How Origami Solar plans to disrupt the worldwide PV module market

By Chris Crowell June 29, 2023

Solar modules manufactured within the United States are comprised of many parts made past U.S. borders. The polysilicon to solar cell provide chain is essentially the most high-profile instance, however PV glass (requires a particular sand to provide), sealants, backsheets, aluminum frames and so forth are simply as extremely concentrated in China and Southeast Asia.

U.S.-based capability for a few of these PV parts will come slowly (see Onshore Outlook for particulars) — besides within the case of PV frames, which may very well be produced utterly within the U.S. as early as 2024 so long as we swap from aluminum to metal.

At least that’s the pitch of Origami Solar, the 2022 winner of the Department of Energy’s American-Made Solar Prize.

The aluminum business, and the aluminum PV body provide chain, is centralized in China and Southeast Asia and has not advanced a lot in 20+ years. Steel manufacturing ecosystems then again exist on each continent. This is an enormous motive why solar business veteran and Origami founder Eric Hafter set his sights on metal solar frames and pitched the concept to now-CEO Gregg Patterson and chief technique officer Erick Petersen.

The group envisioned a whole disruption of the aluminum PV body market — a mix of product innovation and established U.S. business that might assist 100% of the U.S.-based module manufacturing capability with domestically produced PV frames.

Localization is barely a part of the pitch within the swap to metal frames. The relaxation consists of decrease prices, decrease greenhouse gasoline emissions and improved structural reliability.

Here’s the whole lot you must know.

Steeling market share

steel vs aluminum pricing

We’ll get to the efficiency, price and GHG advantages, however understanding the potential for a swift and whole adoption of metal frames by U.S. module producers — overcoming the 45-year head begin of aluminum — is essentially the most intriguing tidbit contemplating the preliminary tips for the ten% home content material tax credit score adder.

“We’ve spent a lot of time wondering, ‘how do you enable the solar industry to scale as quickly as they want to?’” Patterson asks. The reply is participating the U.S. metal business. “Our strategy is holistic — don’t just create a product. We need an upstream supply chain, and we have to make sure the outcome exceeds the end customer’s expectations.”

They began speaking to the most important metal and coating corporations within the U.S. and Europe, in addition to a lot of roll-forming fabrication companions. By lining them up, Origami Solar has addressed assurance of provide and eased a fundamental level of resistance from the module producers, who can then hit the bottom working with severe quantity in the event that they wish to make the swap.

“Module companies have never had steel in their commodity portfolio, and we’re asking them to transition from a commodity and component that’s been in place for 45 years,” Patterson notes. “So, we have to create and build that capacity.”

The metal business is virtually giddy concerning the alternative. The forecast for U.S. solar put in over the subsequent 5 years is anyplace from 30 to 50 GW of capability yearly. At simply 30 GW, that’s a possible 350,000 tons of metal wanted per yr.

For the fledgling U.S. solar module manufacturing business, the timing is almost good. Many amenities are coming on-line or increasing within the subsequent few years, they usually want as a lot home content material as doable within the closing product.

“The solar industry is good at adopting a better solution quickly,” Patterson says. “We have educated the solar industry to the point where they view steel as a viable alternative with a superior value proposition, and some believe it is the preferred alternative.”

He estimates that 2024 is once we can anticipate the beginning of the transition to metal. Now, let’s get into the entire the reason why.

Glass on the border
Canadian Premium Sand Inc. is creating a brand new facility to provide patterned solar glass for the rising footprint of North America-based solar module producers and not too long ago signed three vital offtakers: Hanwha Solutions Corporation (Qcells), Heliene Inc. and Meyer Burger Technology AG. Canadian Premium Sands and its EPC consortium have designed an 800 tonne per day solar glass manufacturing facility — that’s roughly 6 GW each year of solar panel manufacturing capability in North America. These three North American solar panel producers account for a mixed 62% of deliberate output capability and a median renewable contract time period of over 4 years.

Advantages over aluminum

Localizing and derisking the provision chain of solar module frames gives worth properly past the political speaking factors of home manufacturing.

Lower price | Aluminum is about 3x the price of metal on a per-pound foundation. On high of that, the metal roll-forming manufacturing course of is far easier, sooner and cheaper.

To extrude an aluminum body, an ingot is pressed by a heated die to get a fundamental form. It is then anodized for corrosion safety (or anodized even longer to realize a black search for residential). Then, it’s minimize to dimension. Then, the entire holes and slots are punched for fabrication.

“With roll-formed steel, you put a coil of corrosion-coated steel on the front end, and what comes out the back end are the frame components — the long sides and the short sides with all of the holes and slots punched into them,” Patterson says.

This lower-cost start line in 2024 can be the costliest the body will ever be, as it’ll absolutely come down after the metal body ecosystem and fabrication course of are optimized and volumes enhance through the years.

Durability | “We thought through everything that a frame needs to do holistically, including the cost to install and maintain,” Patterson says.

Testing of the first-generation metal body design carried out at TECSI Solar in contrast a 35 mm tall Origami metal body towards a 40 mm aluminum body underneath similar circumstances and utilizing similar PV laminates. Report findings:

  • Top clamping: Steel frames had been examined for compression power to assist typical high clamp masses, which may end in body buckling or laminate breakage. The Origami metal body delivered greater than enough rigidity and stability to withstand such masses.
  • Downforce: The Origami metal body considerably outperformed the taller aluminum body in body wall rigidity, structural stability and whole deflection, even at a 150 psf load. The solar- lively parts of the PV laminate had been much better shielded from doable harm as validated in EL imaging exams.
  • Upforce: The Origami metal body once more outperformed commonplace aluminum frames, withstanding upforce loading to 135 psf.
  • Laminate rigidity: The Origami metal body maintained laminate rigidity higher than aluminum, higher defending the solar cells from cracking underneath downward loading.

A caveat to those outcomes: That was the beefed up “Sherman tank” prototype. The Origami group is now on model 2, which makes use of a lighter gauge metal that has confirmed to be much more structurally sound of their FEA [finite element analysis] exams.

Version 2 provides about 1 lb. to a median residential small module and 4.5 lbs. to a large-format module. Considering the rising concern concerning the fragility of supersized modules [see p. 44], these additional kilos may be a good commerce.

“The feedback we’ve received from a lot of players is that’s totally within reason,” Patterson tells us.

Embodied carbon | Aluminum is an energy intensive, CO2-heavy manufacturing course of, particularly for a business product of this scale.

A complete life cycle evaluation (LCA) report from Boundless Research signifies a metal PV body would cut back solar module embodied GHG emissions by ~90% vs. aluminum frames imported from China and Southeast Asia. The potential GHG emission financial savings from changing solely 10% of the business’s typical aluminum solar frames with Origami Solar metal module frames is roughly 30 megatons (30 million metric tons) between 2022 and 2030 — the emissions equal of eight coal-fired power crops for a complete yr. A 50% shift to metal would end in a GHG discount of 148 megatons.

This is one other metric that can solely enhance over time as metal corporations proceed to decarbonize their very own manufacturing processes. The solar business does make the most of lower-carbon recycled metal for tracker, racking and different structural parts, and has the chance to cut back embodied carbon depth considerably extra if recycled metal had been additionally used for module frames.

Framing the dialog

Solar is being set as much as be a serious business within the United States. The highlight on the provision chain and the way solar modules and large-scale crops carry out is barely going to accentuate. Steel PV frames may shore up (and on-shore) an inherent weak spot within the present business. This is the potential that sealed the DOE American-Made Solar Prize final yr, and why the assist is rallying for Origami’s innovation.

“The solar industry has been around for 45 years,” Patterson notes. “In those 45 years, we got to 3% of total power portfolio worldwide. Projections are that solar ideally needs to get to 40 to 70% in the future. That’s causing a maturation in how we look at it, from a long-term performance and consistency perspective. It’s got to be bulletproof. We have to think about the details that haven’t been essential when you’re at 3% that will be essential at 40%.”

Chris Crowell is Editor-in-Chief of Solar Builder.

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Tags: home content material, Origami Solar

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