Outer space can be a pretty tough environment, calling for just as tough solar cells. Hybrid Plastics, Auburn University, and Entech Inc. have teamed under a NASA Glenn Research Center program to develop protective coatings for next-generation thin-film solar cells and concentrators for space applications. Coatings on current thin-film solar cells aren't thick enough for the hazards of space, including ultraviolet radiation, particle radiation, and monatomic oxygen. Hybrid Plastics and Auburn University will design, evaluate, and develop samples of polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxanes (POSSs) for use as transparent protective coatings for the cells. They'll also find homes in solar concentrator Fresnel lenses, which capture sunlight and focus it onto the cells.
POSS is based on silicon-derived building blocks. These provide nanometer-scale control to dramatically improve the thermal and mechanical properties of traditional polymers while offering easy incorporation using existing manufacturing protocols. POSS nanomaterials don't release any volatile organic compounds, and they're biocompatible, recyclable, and nonflammable. For more information, go to www.hybridplastics.com.