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The Coming of Age of the DSC Market

NanoMarkets has covered the market for dye-sensitized (solar) cell (DSC) photovoltaics (PV) for several years, but believes that since our last report—and certainly in the last two years, the DSC PV market has come of age and has moved into the early commercialization phase:

• Pilot line-produced commercial cells are being made and shipped to customers.

• The laboratory performance of DSCs is now comparable with amorphous silicon (a-Si) (PV), but with much more potential than a-Si PV for performance improvements down the road.

• In addition, DSC PV is compatible with flexible modules, solution processing, and roll-to-roll (R2R) production processes, which widens its applicability beyond that of most conventional PV technologies.

But these facts, which mean that DSC can expect to start generating significant revenues in the near future, are, NanoMarkets believes, obscured in the eyes of much of the PV industry (perhaps including investors) by history.

A Market in Early Commercialization

In the past, the DSC market has frequently been seen as a subset of the organic PV (OPV) industry. Most superficially, this viewpoint has existed because “pure” OPV and DSC use organic materials. More significantly “pure” OPV and DSC for many years exhibited the same low performance characteristics that relegated both technologies to the same low-end addressable markets.

This association made some kind of sense a few years ago, when both “pure” OPV and DSC had very similar performance and commercialization characteristics:

• However, DSC, as we have already noted, is beginning to look more and more like a commercially viable PV technology, while OPV seems to be mired in a permanent R&D phase, and has a measurably worse efficiency performance.

• Today, the DSC industry largely consists of a handful of firms that share a common history. Most of the dyes for DSC projects, for example, have come from Dyesol technology and intellectual property, while the basic structure itself is based on the original École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Grätzel/O’Regan-type cell. This kind of concentrated industrial structure has reinforced the idea that DSC is niche technology.

To the extent that DSC is amalgamated with OPV then, and seen as an industry sector made up of tiny firms, its image suffers. But NanoMarkets believes that the DSC industry will be able to break away from at least some of that negative image, based on its improving performance, which in turn will lead to broader addressable markets and a less niche-like industry structure:

• For a while DSC and OPV seemed to be suitable primarily for marginal products such as solar handbags or solar umbrellas; DSC seems to have made somewhat more progress in the building-integrated PV (BIPV) space than OPV.

The Dyesol-Tata partnership announced achievement of several technical milestones in 2011 at their product development facility in Wales. In addition, Dyesol and U.K. glassmaker Pilkington (owned by Japanese glass firm Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG)) formed DyeTec Solar to produce and commercialize semi-transparent BIPV modules based on DSC technology. DyeTec Solar announced in August 2011 that its production facility was fully equipped and ready to start prototype production.

• Although the materials focus is still with Dyesol, several other large and mid-sized specialty chemical firms have entered the DSC materials business, including German firms BASF and Merck, as well as Japanese firms Showa Denko and Fujikura.

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