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Do Solar Cells Offer Kodak a Way Back?

Kodak hopes to use its expertise in film making to produce flexible solar cells.
January 19, 2012

It may be a long shot, but Kodak, which filed for bankruptcy today, thinks it might have a use for its idle film production equipment: making solar cells.

Kodak suffered as digital cameras eclipsed film ones over the last decade. Although it sold digital cameras itself, it soon became clear that it couldn’t compete with other companies that had more technical competence in electronics and camera making. Kodak’s real advantage had been its competence in chemistry and film making, and this was suddenly in much less demand as consumers switched to digital photography. The company has had to shut down most of its film manufacturing. 

But Kodak is in the process of trying to reinvent itself, and one of its efforts, albeit one that may not bear fruit, is using its expertise in film making to produce flexible solar cells. Some companies already make flexible solar cells, but they haven’t yet taken off, in part because they haven’t been very efficient (although this is changing).

Kodak is now working with Natcore Technologies to produce flexible solar cells made of nanotubes that have the potential to be as efficient as conventional silicon solar cells that dominate the market now, but that could cost half as much to make, in part because they could be made on existing film production equipment at Kodak. 

It will be a challenge, though, to break into the solar market. Prices are low due to an oversupply of solar panels, and banks are reluctant to front the money for solar power installations that use new technology. One challenge with flexible solar cells could be ensuring they will last as long as conventional ones encased in protective glass. Koday will also face competition from companies such as Dow that are starting to sell flexible solar roofing shingles. 

Yet if anyone can make flexible solar cells work, it could be Kodak. Maybe its core technical competency could help make it competitive once again. 

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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