Germany: Task 39 Showcases Solar Collectors Made of Polymers
 Germany: Task 39 Showcases Solar Collectors Made of Polymers

Germany: Task 39 Showcases Solar Collectors Made of Polymers

An exhibition taking place as part of the International Conference on Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC) 2013 between 23 and 25 September 2013 unveiled how solar collectors manufactured from plastic materials may look like in the future. Under the motto Efficiency and Design, the exhibits provided an insight into research trends and product innovations for solar thermal applications. The exhibition was organised by a working group of Task 39, a sub-task of the International Energy Agency’s Solar Heating and Cooling Programme, IEA SHC.

While experts and scientists gathered in Freiburg’s Concert Hall for the SHC 2013, an accompanying exhibition held in front of the Congress Centre showed interested visitors polymeric collectors, storage tanks and other components. In addition to collectors by Israeli company Magen Eco Energy, the collection ranged from collector concepts and storage systems by Aventa (Norway), Enerconcept (Canada), Sunlumo (Austria), Consolar and Roth Werke (both Germany) to Fraunhofer ISE’s completely polymeric thermosiphon system Therm-X, made of polypropylene (PP).

Therm-X is the result of a study on low-cost solar water heaters for sunny regions. Its design is based on extruded twin wall sheets of commodity plastics. According to Fraunhofer ISE, the system is suitable for mass production and could open up new possibilities around the world for manufacturing cost-efficient and reliable thermosiphon systems. Therm-X offers a collector surface of 1.2 m² and a storage capacity of 65 litres. It was conceptualised in the frame of the EU-funded project SCOOP and built by Fraunhofer ISE (patent still pending).

Fraunhofer ISE’s polymeric thermosiphon system Therm-X for sunny regions

Photo: Stephanie Banse

Magen Eco Energy showcased its eco-Flare pro collector, which is made from PP and polycarbonate (PC). The lightweight one-piece panel with a size of 100 x 215 cm weighs only 15 kg. Enerconcept, Canada, displayed its solar air collector system for space heating, Lubi. The collector is suitable for all kinds of facades and reaches a high efficiency throughout a wide range of flow rates. The system consists of UV-treated and perforated PC panels with a dimension of 32 x 90 cm incorporated into an aluminium frame. The AventaSolar collector from Norway is an extruded collector made from PC and polyphenylene sulphide (PPS). The collector is said to have a flexible design and to be simple to mount. It is available in adjustable sizes from 60 x 205 cm to 60 x 580 cm.

According to a Fraunhofer ISE press release, plastics are increasingly being used when manufacturing solar thermal collectors, storage systems and components. Despite the progress and developments brought about by the industry to date, Michael Köhl, a researcher at Fraunhofer ISE and Head of Task 39, believes that a great deal still needs to be done. “Thanks to the dedicated work of our colleagues from research and industry, we have a series of efficient and yet aesthetically pleasing products at our disposal,” Michael Köhl is stated in the press release. “It, however, is now up to us to ensure that in the long run, confidence will have been built up in these newly developed competitive product areas.” Task 39 serves as an international platform to foster networks between experts in solar thermal technologies and polymer R&D in science and industry.

To demonstrate the advantages of polymers to a wider audience, the Task 39 Handbook Polymeric Materials for Solar Thermal Applications was published under the direction of Köhl in 2012, with contributions from 44 researchers working in the field. Clearly split into three major parts, the contributions are written by experts on solar thermal applications and polymer scientists alike. The first part explains the fundamentals of solar thermal energy, especially to representatives of the plastics industry. Part two then goes on to provide introductory information on polymeric materials and processing for solar thermal experts. The third part combines both of these fields, discussing the potential, as well as demands on durability, design and building integration. The edition will begin a series of scientific books planned to be published within the various tasks of the IEA SHC in cooperation with German publishing house Wiley-VCH.

In order to optimise the quality of product innovations made of plastics, Köhl has been putting his efforts at Fraunhofer ISE into the durability analysis of polymeric materials for many years. The materials are analysed in detail, allowing any weaknesses which become apparent during the quality checks to be detected at an early stage. Fraunhofer ISE boasts a wide range of testing and measuring devices to investigate the longevity and degradation of polymeric materials.

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Baerbel Epp

Bärbel Epp is Founder and Director of the German communication and market research agency solrico and editor-in-chief of