Innovation That Matters

Maana’s automated solar panel factory will fit inside a series of shipping containers, but will need to shrink still further for space | Photo source Maana Electric

A solar panel factory designed for earth and beyond

Agriculture & Energy

The automated factory fits inside shipping containers and is designed to make solar panels using nothing but sand and energy

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Spotted: With current technology, it would take a minimum of 260 days to reach Mars. That is a long way to go – and given the cost of transportation, humans who plan to colonise the Red Planet must be able to fabricate a lot of what they need on-site. One thing colonists are going to need is energy, and startup Maana Electric is working on a system to deliver it. The company has developed an automated factory that produces solar panels out of sand – and which could also see a lot of use here on earth.

Maana’s ‘TerraBox’ can fit into six, 20-foot shipping containers, to be assembled on site. This makes it easy to transport by ship and truck to almost anywhere. Details about how exactly the factory works are scarce, but the company has said it can produce 20 to 25 panels per day. That amounts to around one megawatt of panels per year. The factory uses one cubic metre of sand a day and after two or three months, it will have produced enough panels to power itself.

Although the panels that can currently be produced using the TerraBox offer only around 12 per cent efficiency (the standard is 15 to 22 percent), there are significant advantages to producing solar panels in situ. One is a reduction in carbon from not needing to transport the panels. In fact, the company claims the process itself also generates less carbon than a typical solar-panel production process. In addition, the panels can be efficiently recycled.

Maana Electric CEO Joost van Oorschot describes how the company could help countries convert to renewables. “A country like Namibia, for example — if you send 10 TerraBoxes there and they produce for their 10-year lifetime, you can completely transition a country like that to renewable energy,” he says. But Manna is aiming for more – they want to be the utility company for the solar system. The idea is that a TerraBox could be sent up to the Moon or Mars to manufacture solar panels for colonists. 

As the solar energy market heats up, there is renewed interest in developing more efficient ways to build—and recycle—solar panels. Springwise has recently covered developments in this space with innovations such as brick-like panels that can turn almost any façade into a power generator and a more efficient way to produce solar panels. 

Written By: Lisa Magloff



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