Harnessing the power of the sun has been the research focus of Seamus Curran, University of Houston assistant professor of physics and director of UH’s Institute for NanoEnergy, for almost 20 years. While solar power is a promising alternative energy source, researchers at UH are looking to make it more efficient.
“Over time, your solar panels are going to lose a lot of power,” says Curran. “The panels can lose anywhere up to 30 percent of your power without proper cleaning.”
But Curran and his team of researchers have come up with a solution: a nanoparticle coating, 10,000 times thinner than a human hair, that keeps solar panels clean by propelling dust and water. The Self-Cleaning Nano Hydrophobic (SCNH107TM) layer has been licensed by C-Voltaics from UH.
“It doesn’t like water. It pushes water away, so when water falls on this coating, it flows off and cannot stick on it. The water gathers up the dust and acts like a mini-vacuum on the surface, pulling all of the dirt and dust off. It keeps it clean,” says Curran.
Curran says the coating will help reduce the cost of maintaining efficient solar panels, but adds that its unique properties lend the coating to a number of other practical applications—from home improvement to medical devices and retail uses. Imagine never having to worry about ruining a wood surface with a water ring from your glass, or clothing and carpets that repel liquids and stains. It can even give dull aluminum the look of stainless steel.
“These coatings work fantastic in a number of areas,” says Curran. “We’ve tested it up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s performed beautifully.”