The Air Force recently awarded Colorado-based Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc. with a Phase 2 Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) award to help develop its next generation of flexible thin-film copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) photovoltaic devices. Under the award the company is developing new module designs that the Air Force will test.
Ascent’s technology already passed the first phase of the SBIR process, Armstrong said. The second, two-year phase will show that the technology can be tested in labs or other applications. The award, could be up to $750,000. “This is specifically to develop the technology. It’s not tied to a specific program,” he said.
The company’s PV devices aren’t confined to the normal flat-panel shapes of conventional silicon-PV and so they could be used in a number of different ways by the Air Force. For instance, “It can be applied to UAVs [i.e., unmanned aerial vehicles],” said Ascent spokesperson Joe Armstrong. The main interest has been coming from the Air Force’s space group. However, the Air Force hasn’t specified what application it’s considering the technology for. Other companies are also looking into using its technology in aerial applications.
The award will support research to make Ascent’s thin-film PV 30 percent more efficient under test conditions. “The main thing we’re focussed on is trying to make it work better at higher temperatures,” Armstrong said. “It’s to improve our baseline technology This is something that could realistically be a next-gen product. This is where we get a program from the space industry that will translate to our base product line.” He called the research a variation of Ascent’s existing technology.
Ascent uses a laser-patterning process to create the electric conductors for its PV units, as opposed to other CIGS PV manufacturers that connects each cell individually. The laser process allows the company more flexibility in the substrate the device is on, allowing for flexible applications. Recently the company has been introducing charging cases with batteries for iPhones and other smartphones, with the PV charges adding virtually no thickness to the case. Something most other PV devices can’t do.