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Tuesday, 25 February 2020
Raw materials & technologies, Technologies, Functional coatings

Self-cleaning solar panel coating improves energy collection

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A transparent coating designed to combat soiling on solar panels is in development at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The coating is based on superhydrophobic technology 
Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Flickr

The coating is based on superhydrophobic technology
Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Flickr

Soiling – the accumulation of dust and sand – on solar power reflectors and photovoltaic cells is one of the main efficiency drags for solar power plants, capable of reducing reflectivity up to 50% in 14 days. Though plants can perform manual cleaning and brushing with deionized water and detergent, this labor-intensive routine significantly raises operating and maintenance costs, which is reflected in the cost of solar energy for consumers.

Conventional painting methods can be used

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is developing a transparent, self-cleaning coating for solar reflectors to improve energy efficiency while lowering maintenance costs and avoiding negative environmental impacts. The coating is based on a superhydrophobic coating technology that has been shown to water, viscous liquids, and most solid particles. Unlike other superhydrophobic approaches that employ vacuum deposition and chemical etching to nano-engineer desired surfaces, the coatings are deposited by conventional painting and spraying methods using a mixture of organics and particles. In addition, these methods can be deployed easily in the field during repairs and retro-fitting.

There are many challenges

First, the coating must be very superhydrophobic to minimize the need for occasional cleaning, and it must have minimal (or even zero) effect on the transmission and scattering of solar radiation between the wavelengths of 250 to 3,000 nm. To meet these requirements, the coating must be no more than a few hundred nanometers thick, and the embedded particles must be considerably smaller. The extremely thin coating must also be durable under environmental exposure, including UV radiation and sand erosion, and be compliant according to existing emission standards.

Developing cool roof coatings

In addition to anti-soiling coating for solar applications, ORNL researchers are using their superhydrophobicity expertise to develop anti-soiling cool roof coatings, as well as anti-icing and anti-condensation coatings for air conditioning and evaporative cooling applications, respectively. Going into 2014, the project has been funded for another year and will optimize the coating and perform accelerated exposure tests, as well as begin development on a scalable coating technique and perform small-scale field testing.

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