Green electricity from the façade thanks to Heliatek
Windows are designed to let light in, while façades determine the face of a building. But, as is quickly made clear by a glance into the research laboratory of Dresden-based company Heliatek, windows, façades and solar modules can do a lot more in combination. They can take on other functions such as energy extraction, air-conditioning and providing shade from the sun.
Dresden-based company Heliatek, a multiple award-winning start-up, develops solar films that turn windows and façades into electricity generators.
Flexible in construction, these organic solar films can be used on concrete, steel, glass and other substrate materials.
Organic solar film – light and flexible
Heliatek, established in 2006, has developed an ultra-light solar film that is only one millimetre thick. It is so flexible that it can be integrated into the PVC membrane of an air dome, for example. The energy obtained in this way can then be used directly for lighting and ventilation in the building, among other things. As a pilot project in Berlin shows, this improves the climate in the dome because it reduces the ambient heat.
Integration with PVC membranes is the consistent next step in Heliatek’s marketing strategy of constantly finding ways of working with applications that traditional solar technology cannot reach.
The HeliaFilm® solar film also works efficiently in poor light conditions and high temperatures. It is available in a range of colours as well as in a transparent version. To test potential applications in practice, the Dresden-based company has implemented pilot projects in collaboration with a range of other industrial partners.
A joint pilot project with concrete construction company Reckli, based in Herne, Germany, shows the possibilities of energy extraction using solar film: in 2015, Heliatek integrated its product into the façade of Reckli’s head office. Façades generally offer more space for generating solar power than roofs, which are the preferred location for conventional solar technology. The energy that is obtained is also used immediately. At Reckli, for example, it is used to charge forklifts.
One film – a wealth of applications
At the Expo in Milan in May 2015, Heliatek and its partner company AGC GLAS Europe displayed a solar-active façade as part of the Belgian pavilion.
The solar film shown there was integrated into laminated safety glass elements. The construction also shows how solar power and façade shading can be efficiently combined.
The film has already proven itself capable of being attached to a range of different surfaces, including the façades of skyscrapers or the outside of a tent. The material is so light and flexible that, at some stage, it could even be attached to goods vehicles and automobiles to supply them with electricity. That would offer huge potential, and could enable us to offer our customers entirely new solutions.
innogy is one of the first investors to have provided the young start-up company with venture capital.
innogy uses venture capital to sponsor new, innovative companies in the area of renewable energy during their start-up and growth stages.
Environmentally friendly production
A range of possible applications
The film is currently manufactured in a pilot plant. In April 2016, the company, based in Dresden and Ulm, won the Green Tec Award in the category, “Production.” Heliatek won the award for its innovative roll-to-roll production process. Only one gram of material is needed for each square metre. In addition, no toxic materials are used in the production of the films, which uses only recyclable materials.
The solar film is a high-tech product made in Germany. It opens up whole new areas of application for solar engery production.
“The advantages of being a lightweight”
Dr. Starrmann, you’re the CEO of Innogy Venture Capital.
Your company invests risk venture capital in young, innovative renewable energy companies in their start-up or growth phases. The young start-up, Heliatek, is one of the companies in your portfolio.
In your opinion, what is innovative about the HeliaFilm® product?
Frank Starrmann: HeliaFilm® is light and flexible and can produce solar power in places where conventional photovoltaic products can’t be used, e.g. by installing it into building facades. This turns buildings into green energy producers.
I would like to see HeliaFilm® helping to serve the increasing hunger for energy in the world by providing the energy right where it’s needed – with property owners and tenants, in cities and rural areas – renewable, decentralised, close to the consumer.
Why did Innogy Venture Capital decide to invest venture capital in Heliatek in 2009?
Heliatek was researching a unique technology with the potential to provide a range of entirely new applications for solar energy generation – protected worldwide by a number of sponsor families . If its reach and economies of scale were great enough, the solar film promised to be even more affordable than conventional photovoltaics. Today, Heliatek uses just one gram of solar film per square metre in small series production.
The film is currently being tested in a number of pilot projects. Which project do you like best and why?
The installation of the film in an air dome in Berlin, as this very clearly demonstrates the advantage of its light weight. A tent cover as a solar power producer. Isn’t that great!
In your opinion, what makes Heliatek stand out? What makes it special?
I’m fascinated by the fact that the solar film is an absolutely high-tech product, "made in Germany", that opens up whole new fields of application for solar power generation. I’m also very impressed with the diverse and passionate management team.
Record organic cell
In February 2016, the start-up presented a “record” organic cell, which boosts the efficiency of organic solar cells to 13.2%. This beats Heliatek’s own 2013 record by 1.2 percentage points. That does not sound like a lot compared to traditional photovoltaic systems, but in the field of organic photovoltaics (OPV), it’s a milestone in terms of performance.
The flexible solar film can also be used in entirely new areas. It can be integrated into contoured surfaces, for example. In collaboration with automobile industry supplier Webasto, Heliatek is currently developing the prototype for a solar-active car roof system.