Self-Cleaning Solar Panels From Mars Find Their Way to Earth

mars rover photo

Photo: NASA
Who Knew Deserts Were Dusty?
Dust is annoying enough to clean in my small apartment, I can't imagine the headaches that it must give the owners of large solar farms. Dusty solar panels capture fewer photons and thus produce less power, so keeping them clean is important. Thankfully for solar developers, help is coming... all the way from Mars!
solar panels self cleaning photo

Photo: Flickr, CC

In a report at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) a couple days ago, a group of scientists presented a self-cleaning coating for solar panels that was originally developed in collaboration with NASA for the solar panels of the Mars Rover (pictured above). Dr. Malay K. Mazumder and his team claim that theirs is the "only technology for automatic dust cleaning that doesn't require water or mechanical movement."

Electricity Output Declines Rapidly With Dust Accumulation
It doesn't take that much dust to have an impact on solar farms. A dust layer of "one-seventh of an ounce" per square yard is enough to decrease output by 40 percent, a huge deal if solar is to be cost competitive. And in the kinds of places where solar farms are build, the amount of dust deposited each month on average is 4+ times higher than that.

How the Self-Cleaning Coating Works
It's quite clever, really:

The self-cleaning technology involves deposition of a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels. Sensors monitor dust levels on the surface of the panel and energize the material when dust concentration reaches a critical level. The electric charge sends a dust-repelling wave cascading over the surface of the material, lifting away the dust and transporting it off of the screen's edges.

Mazumder said that within two minutes, the process removes about 90 percent of the dust deposited on a solar panel and requires only a small amount of the electricity generated by the panel for cleaning operations.

Let's hope that this coating can be produced cheaply and that it finds its way to solar farms quickly. Anything that can make solar energy cheaper to produce by increasing the real-world efficiency of the panels is a good thing.

Via Science Daily
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