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Sustainability, energy efficiency, and capital effectiveness. These are the priorities that DuPont’s sustainable solutions division has focused on providing for its customers. Vice President of Sustainable Solutions, Latin America for DuPont Pedro Fernández explains that it was through DuPont’s work on food and energy that the company developed a focus on these three priorities that aligned perfectly with the needs of their customers. This commitment has proven to ring true for DuPont’s work across various sectors of renewable energy, including wind, solar, and bioenergy. In 2011, DuPont acquired Danish bioproduct company Danisco, partly to gain access to the latter’s research into enzymes used in biofuels. The Danisco acquisition provided a boost for DuPont’s R&D capacity to develop biofuels, although with some careful restrictions. As Fernández makes clear “at DuPont, we do not want to use food to produce biofuels. We wish to avoid risking the nutritional security of anyone. Our main improvement has been to develop techniques to produce biofuels through biomass resources.” While DuPont has been very active in this line of research in the US and Brazil, its activities in Mexico have been curtailed by a lack of agricultural inputs. But the company is committing itself to using economically and environmentally suitable biomass products and put them to good use. Given such limitations, it is not surprising that DuPont has elected to focus much of its attention in Mexico on solar energy. Since DuPont develops these technologies alongside its oil and gas activities, it is in a very good position to assess the competitiveness between fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. “Solar technology can get very close to fossil fuel energy-based projects,” says Fernández, but it all depends on the equipment put into play. For Mexico, where renewable energy sources are seeking to gain more traction and approval from the government to compete with fossil fuels, the right technology might be a godsend.
The minimum length for a solar panel warranty is 25 years, DuPont asserts. Anything less than that and a product cannot keep up on the Mexican market. With DuPont having started work in the solar industry before solar panels were in commercial use, this is a guarantee they have little trouble in providing to their customers here. Today, the company focuses on three areas: materials for the structure and design of solar panels, electrical connections for its Solamet technology, and innovation to help manufacturers create more productive and efficient equipment.
Efficiency, one of the three pillars of DuPont´s sustainable solutions program, is integral to this work as it is what determines whether solar technology can compete with other energy sources. Leveraging its global presence to achieve this goal, DuPont has been helping to develop next generation solar panels, dubbed Apollo, which Fernández claims will be “lighter and more efficient” when they become available in Mexico within a decade. That efficiency is also the goal of DuPont’s collaborations with Sharp Solar and Suntech, which it is hoped will yield solar technology that puts it on par with fossil fuel costs.
Claims of new and cutting-edge products might alarm players in the Mexican solar market but Fernández is quick to reassure them. “We do not want to compete with others since DuPont is not involved in the solar panel manufacturing. We just wanted to lead the market toward innovation and show what can be possible through our Apollo project,” he explains. DuPont’s Apollo technology consists of silicon-based thin film photovoltaic cells of high power performance. What characterizes these cells is that they can work effectively even under problematic weather conditions, such as rainy days or hot and humid climates, because of their tolerance to damp. heat and humidity. Apollo modules’ traits make them a great solution for both roof-mounted and off-grid projects.
Reassuring the market has become a large part of DuPont’s success strategy in Mexico. Potential Mexican solar entrepreneurs have been downcast by the lack of concrete successes seen in the sector. To counter this pessimism, DuPont has been sharing its global successes and seeking to use its partnerships with renowned firms such as Suntech and Kyocera to help investors regain confidence. Part of DuPont’s actions to stimulate the sector has been to encourage Mexicans to enter the solar sector. Getting them to do so has been done by DuPont showing how to forge links with financial backers and by lobbying the government to make more efforts. Fernández is puzzled at the reticence the authorities have shown to pushing solar forward. “The government has made very shallow attempts to promote the sector with a couple of solar farms in the north, but given the resources available in Mexico, it does not make sense. You do not even find this level of resources in the sunniest part of the Mediterranean,” he says. Governments from China and Japan to Spain and Germany have been integral to kick-starting solar power generation in their countries and DuPont is hopeful Mexico will soon benefit from that same advantage.