© imec
Author profile picture

Lightweight, flexible, and wafer-thin. That’s how EnFoil‘s solar panels look like. The company, a new spinoff of the Hasselt University (UHasselt), Belgium, and imec – the leading Belgian R&D institution – recently introduced its millimeter-thick solar panels. Although thin, the solar panels are robust and can be integrated into various surfaces. The company is already in talks for producing them on a large scale for truck roofs, writes imec.

  • EnFoil developed millimeter-thick solar panels.
  • Their solar panels can be used on many more surfaces where conventional solar cells can’t be installed, such as truck roofs or corrugated roof tiles.
  • The company received a European grant to bring its technology to the market.

The standard silicon solar panels on many roofs already play an important role but cannot be placed everywhere due to their weight or shape. For years, UHasselt and imec have been researching new types of solar cells that are simpler, cheaper, and can be integrated into many more surfaces. “With EnFoil, we are now taking a huge step,” says Dominique Coster, CEO of EnFoil (Energy Enabling Foil).

Until now, anyone who wanted to integrate solar cells on surfaces such as trucks, buildings or tents, for example, could buy mainly standard formats, usually flat and in predetermined sizes, and had to rely on themselves to integrate them on the surface. “As a result, the technology was mainly limited to exclusive construction projects or as an expensive additional option for the roof of your vehicle. With Enfoil, we are changing this,” says Marc Meuris, CTO of EnFoil. “We make thin-film solar cells in all shapes and sizes and can do so on a large scale. The solar cells are installed directly on the customer’s products or integrated. Production is done locally, and we guarantee the feasibility and integration of the final products.”

More sustainable and reliable

Behind EnFoil are technologies and processes that were developed and patented within UHasselt and imec. The thin-film solar cells are based on CIGS technology, made from copper-indium-gallium and selenium. “Because of their pliability, their lightweight, and their robustness, these solar panels are easier to integrate into all kinds of applications than is the case with current silicon solar panels,” says Prof. Dr. Bart Vermang of imo-imomec, imec’s associate lab at UHasselt. “They are also more shock resistant.”

Ready for production

Discussions with the industry to bring EnFoil’s solar films to the market are ongoing. “A lot of applications are possible, such as integrating the solar cells on swimming pool covers or corrugated roof tiles. Right now, we are focusing mainly on the logistics sector, where we want to integrate our materials on the roofs and sidewalls of trucks so they can power sensors and track & trace systems in trucks. This way, you save a lot of battery, and when there is a lot of sunlight, the battery can even be charged,” said Marc Meuris, CTO of EnFoil.

ERC grant

The project already received support from the European Research Council, which gave EnFoil a €150.000 worth grant to bring new technologies to the market. UHasselt will use this money to recruit a researcher to work on EnFoil’s product development. “The ERC jury includes several industrial experts. We, therefore, see this grant as a nice recognition and a sign that the industry believes in our product and sees the potential to bring it to the market,” says Prof. Dr. Bart Vermang.