Self-clean technology developed for solar panels that power devices used for lunar and Mars missions could someday be used to help improve efficiency of solar installations here on Earth. These self-dusting solar panels, as they are called, were developed by Boston University’s Malay K. Mazumder and colleagues.
It is a fact of life that many large scale solar installations are dropped in places with very dusty conditions, such as deserts. Winds typically sweep dust into the air and deposit it onto the surface of solar panels, reducing the amount of light that can enter the business part of the solar panel and decreasing the amount of electricity produced. The technology developed by these researchers, originally used for NASA missions, could be of a great help at a time when the use of such panels has increased by 50 percent from 2003 to 2008, with forecasts for projected growth reaching at least 25 percent annually into the future.
This self cleaning technology, according to the researchers, “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.” It is 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.”
“We think our self-cleaning panels used in areas of high dust and particulate pollutant concentrations will highly benefit the systems’ solar energy output,” said study leader Mazumder, Ph.D., in a statement. “Our technology can be used in both small- and large-scale photovoltaic systems. To our knowledge, this is the only technology for automatic dust cleaning that doesn’t require water or mechanical movement.”