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Glass Coating Makes Solar Panels More Efficient

May 13, 2015 - 9:20am

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The new technology repels water and reduces the sunlight reflected off a glass surface. | Photo courtesy of Flickr user h080.

The new technology repels water and reduces the sunlight reflected off a glass surface. | Photo courtesy of Flickr user h080.

Have you ever treated your windshield with Rain-X or bought eyeglasses with an antireflective coating? A new technology combines the benefits of both in a unique glass coating that can improve tomorrow’s solar panels, lenses, detectors, windows and many other products.

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory looked to some surprising sources of inspiration when developing the new technology: a moth’s eye (which is anti-reflective) and lotus leaf (which is water-repellant).

Water bounces off, carrying dirt with it and cleaning the surface. Light, however does not. For solar panels, reflecting less sunlight means a 3 to 6 percent increase in light-to-electricity conversion efficiency and power output of the solar cells. The water-repelling and self-cleaning properties could also substantially reduce maintenance and operating costs of solar panels.

Other potential applications include reducing glare and preventing ice and snow buildup on goggles, periscopes and optical instruments.

The new coating is manufactured by first depositing a thin layer of glass on another glass surface. Then chemical etching and heat create a porous three-dimensional network of high-strength glass that resembles microscopic coral.

The coating can be fabricated through standard industry techniques, making it easy and inexpensive to scale up and apply to many types of glass. And it’s much more durable than existing glass coatings. Other methods involve plastics and powders, which aren’t very durable. In contrast, the new coating is made from glass, which can withstand much more abuse from impact and temperature.

This coating is only the latest promising technology from from the National Labs. Stay tuned for more Lab Breakthroughs.

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