Active surfaces for Self-Cleaning Solar Panels

Active surfaces for Self-Cleaning Solar Panels


Researchers at MIT and in Saudi Arabia have
developed a new way of making surfaces that can actively control how fluids or particles
move across them. This work might enable new kinds of biomedical
or microfluidic devices, or solar panels that could automatically clean themselves of dust
and grit. Most surfaces are passive. They rely on gravity,
or other forces, to move fluids or particles. The research team decided to use external
fields, such as magnetic fields, to make surfaces active, exerting precise control over the
behavior of particles or droplets moving over them. The system makes use of a microtextured surface,
with bumps or ridges just a few micrometers across, that is then impregnated with a fluid
that can be manipulated — for example, an oil infused with tiny magnetic particles,
or ferrofluid, which can be pushed and pulled by applying a magnetic field to the surface. When droplets of water or tiny particles are
placed on the surface, a thin coating of the fluid covers them, forming a magnetic cloak. When exposed to a magnetic field , the droplet
is pulled toward the magnet by its thin cloak of ferrofluid, even though the droplet itself
is not magnetic. Tiny ferromagnetic particles, approximately
10 nanometers in diameter, in the ferrofluid could allow precision control when it’s
needed — such as in a microfluidic device used to test biological or chemical samples
by mixing them with a variety of reagents. While other researchers have developed systems
that use magnetism to move particles or fluids, these require the material being moved to
be magnetic, and very strong magnetic fields to move them around. The new system, which
produces a superslippery surface that lets fluids and particles slide around with virtually
no friction, needs much less force to move these materials. This allows to attain high
velocities with small applied forces. The new approach could be useful for a range
of applications: For example, Solar panels and the mirrors used in solar-concentrating
systems can quickly lose a significant percentage of their efficiency when dust, moisture, or
other materials accumulate on their surfaces. But if coated with such an active surface
material, a brief magnetic pulse could be used to sweep the material away. i-e This
new approach could lead to systems that make the cleaning process automatic and water-free.
So, it will be more useful in the desert environment.

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