Backsheets and Beyond- Behind Cybrid Technologies Big Plans

China, the factory for the world is a truism that is particularly evident for the solar sector. Increasingly, we are seeing firms in the sector take the lead in innovations and shaping the future of the sector. It is no wonder that the whole premise of falling solar costs and high efficiencies in the new decade is based on hopes that Chinese manufacturers will be able to wring out both efficiencies and innovate further. Cybrid Technologies, a leading backsheets manufacturer, exemplifies this drive.

Mark Wu, CEO, Cybrid technologies

Mark Wu, CEO, Cybrid technologies

We found the firm to be among the most dynamic in the sector, doing well to not only carve out a place in the backsheet space, but also constantly looking at pushing its innovation driven model to build markets in other sectors. Polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) is the backbone of its offerings till now. Cybrid is made global inroads with its patented KPf backsheets (White & Black) and seeks a ready market  in premium bifacial modules segment with its KPF Transparent and transparent with patterns backsheet.

Cybrid technologies, which projected a 2019 turnover of RMB 2.11 Billion (Over $300 million or Rs 2150 crores approx.), started off as one of the rare venture backed firms in the sector from China. The firms founders, Mark Wu (CEO) and Dr Keiichi  Uno (Chief Scientist) are a rare business paring with their  Chinese and Japanese origins respectively. The two had originally started a firm called Marcopoly Lab in Kyoto, Japan in 2006, before funding Cybrid in 2008 with support from Lenovo (Legend Capital). Mark Wu, who we met, is probably one of the most ‘global’ Chinese CEO’s you can hope to meet, with his proficiency in the English language, and easy familiarity with awareness of global cultures

With an original vision to be among the top suppliers of functional polymer materials across multiple markets, the solar backsheet segment was the first challenge the company set out to crack. Backsheets, which serve a role to protect the PV Module from harmful UV radiations, electric insulation and moisture penetration make a massive impact on the durability and efficiency of the Solar PV Module.

The shift to Suzhou in China, meant a strong manufacturing base, allied to the founders solid research background. The results, in the intensely competitive solar sector, have been evident. Along the way, the firm has built a reputation for its innovations and looks primed to make a successful foray into multiple sectors soon. By 2019 end, the firm had crossed total cumulative shipments of 100 GW globally, with 2019 seeing it ship close to 30 GW of backsheets worldwide.

Cybrid claims to invest massively in R & D, with CEO Mark Wu highlighting that 12.5 percent of the firms employees are in R&D. This investment seems to have paid off well, with 188 odd patents for the firm.

Cybrid Suzhou plant

Inside The Cybrid Plant in Suzhou, China

Nothing exemplifies this better than its Cybrid KPf backsheet offering which the fim claims is a global best seller. The firm claim that its KPf transparent backsheet is getting popular in the sector. With a transparent PVDF film as the outer layer, hydrolysis/UV-resistant PET as the middle, and Cybrid’s exclusive fluoro-skin as the inner layer, it offers a backsheet that is both reliable and efficient . The white mesh printing is realised by means of a continuous printing technique and the unique highly-reflective white coating.The KPf solution tackles a key issue of weight and resilience with the dual glass structure of bifacials. This could potentially achieve two objectives. Protect the market under threat from glass-glass modules, and open up a more premium opportunity in bifacials.

Mark Wu, says, “No equipment upgrade is required for the production of transparent backsheets and the cost of doing so is  competitive in many ways. Besides being easy to install, our KPf transparent mesh backsheet replaces a piece of glass, sharply reducing the weight of the module and increasing the rate of power by 5W.” That, along with the  price flexibility KPf seems to offer has opened up the market. Tedlar Polyester Tedlar, or TPT (pioneered by Dupont), is the dominant offering in the backsheets space, but increasingly under pressure  to deliver the sort of cost reductions and innovations module makers demand in backsheet sector. That has opened up doors for Cybrid faster. The firm has an extensive customer list today, a virtual who’s who of the leading module manufacturers worldwide, including in India. For the firm, however, growth was going to be a challenge, like all parts of the solar chain. After all, with costs expected to come down all the time, every part of the supply chain had to follow suit. This is where Cybrid has grabbed an opportunity in the services side of the business with its offering, MoPro.

MoPro is Cybrid’s repair and maintenance service offering. CEO Mark Wu told Saur Energy ““Previously when plant investors found backsheets cracking, they could do nothing but inform the module supplier to send the modules back to the manufacturer. Now they don’t have to replace the broken ones with new modules but can repair the same with Cybrid’s innovative MoPro offerings. Many power plants that have been running for over 5 years are now suffering from different levels of maintenance issues. Our MoPro service sees a significant growth in these markets.” That means large parts of China, India and Europe with markets like Spain, Germany and more.

The firm claims to have crossed 1GW in terms of MoPro contracts by 2019 end. Work that is not only helping it build a services business, but also develop crucial learnings on real world performance across different situations. You can be sure those learnings will be put to use in building the next generation of backsheets soon.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International