The durable coating renders a surface like panel glass to be not merely liquid-repellent, but rather "non-wettable," which means that dirt and other materials do not adhere, according to Ross Harding, managing partner of the venture fund. In normal solar panel arrays, dirt tends to reduce the efficiency of a panel by three to five percent, which then requires manual cleaning, he said. The routine cleaning of solar panels has become a cottage industry in solar markets like California.
In colder climates, frost can be a problem for solar systems, but the new coatings product reduces frost formation, since water beads up and rolls off the glass surface-especially inclined panels.
Should one or more solar panels become more completely occluded, by a flock of Canadian geese, for example, the energy loss to the chain can be much higher, in the double-digit percentage range, and require immediate cleaning.
Another feature of the new coating is that it does not deflect or absorb as much energy-only one third-as competing coatings like polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, commonly known as Teflon. Thus energy capture by the energy-conversion materials is higher. Other commonly used solar panel coatings, like silicon dioxide, which provides glare protection, afford little functionality for water-repellency.
While Harding was unable to estimate the market value of coatings like the P2i product, he said that businesses, which have led to an increase of only one percent in solar panel efficiency have been launched to become $1 billion enterprises.
The P2i coating is molecularly bound to the entire product surface and solvent-free. The nanometer-thin polymer coating is applied in a vacuum chamber using a special pulsed ionized gas, or plasma, according to the company.
P2i Ltd, based in Oxfordshire, UK, was established in 2004 to commercialize liquid-repellent treatments developed by the UK's Ministry of Defense, the company indicates. Now on a commercial scale, P2i's patented process has been successfully applied to a wide range of products in a wide range of markets including performance textiles, electronic devices, filtration media and bio-consumables.
P2i Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of P2i Ltd., is based at the Herty Advanced Material Development Center, in Savannah, GA. Apart from solar applications, the coating process has been used in bio-consumables, consumer electronics, optics, performance textiles, optics and water filtration, under the "ion-mask" and "Aridion" brands.