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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 7:31 EDT

‘Self-Dusting Solar Panels’ Derived From Mars Tech

August 24, 2010

Terrestrial solar panels could be kept dust free thanks to a technology developed for lunar and Mars missions, according to research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Dust buildup can reduce the efficiency of electricity generating solar panels by up to 80 percent. The self-cleaning technology can repel dust when sensors detect any concentrations on the surface of the panels.

BBC News reports that solar installations are abundant in sunny, dry desert regions where winds can deposit dust particles easily over solar panels. In the Mojave Desert solar panels can cover many miles. In a single month, dust fall can reach more than 40 pounds per square mile.

Dust buildup reduces the amount of light that enters the panels and cuts the amount of electricity they can generate.

Cleaning dust manually is no way near practical because of the sheer scale of installations and also due to the scarcity of water in desert regions. Keeping the panels clean can be a major headache for companies deploying the installations.

Malay Mazumder of Boston University developed the technology with NASA to keep solar panels powering Mars rovers clean.

The technology uses a layer of an electrically sensitive material to coat each panel. Sensors detect when dust levels reach a critical level and then an electric charge energizes the material sending a dust-repelling wave across its surface.

This process can repel as much as 90 percent of the dust in under two minutes and only uses a minute amount of energy, according to Mazumder.

Though many large-scale solar installations are found in the United States, Spain and Germany, dust deposition rates are highest the Middle East, Australia and India, where solar installations are also found.

Mazumder believes he has the only automatic dust-busting technology that doesn’t use water or any source of mechanical movement.

With an increasing popularity in solar energy, the need for dust-repelling technology may be a huge market. While currently less than 0.04 percent of global energy production comes from solar panels, the use of such energy shot up by 50 percent from 2003 to 2008.

Mazumder and colleagues expect the technology to be commercially available within one year.

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