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Aug 252010

From Green Right Now Reports

Solar power may be emerging as a legitimate source of energy, but as always, the devil is in the details. Sure, it’s great to have an area the size of 50 football fields gathering up the sun’s rays…but who’s going to keep all those panels dirt and dust-free and optimizing their potential?

In a report at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, a group of scientists presented a possible solution: Self-dusting solar panels, based on technology developed for missions to Mars.

“We think our self-cleaning panels used in areas of high dust and particulate pollutant concentrations will highly benefit the systems’ solar energy output,” study leader Malay K. Mazumder, Ph.D. said. “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.”

Large-scale solar installations usually are set in sun-drenched desert areas where dry weather and winds kick up plenty of dust. That dust reduces the amount of light that can enter the panel, decreasing the amount of electricity produced.

“A dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard decreases solar power conversion by 40 percent,” Mazumder said. “In Arizona, dust is deposited each month at about 4 times that amount. Deposition rates are even higher in the Middle East, Australia, and India.”

Working with NASA, Mazumder and colleagues helped develop the self-cleaning solar panel technology for use in lunar and Mars missions. It 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 concentration reaches a critical level. The electric charge sends a dust-repelling wave over the surface of the material, lifting away the dust and transporting it off the screen’s edges.

According to Mazumder, within two minutes the process removes about 90 percent of the dust and requires only a small amount of the electricity generated by the panel for cleaning.