‘Footstep tech’ for solar module cleaning


Scientists from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have used a triboelectric generator (TENG) to develop a cleaning system for PV modules.

TENGs can convert mechanical energy into electricity through friction between different materials. They recently attracted significant attention due to their high instantaneous output power, the broad availability of materials, the sustainable and cheap fabrication process, and the different working modes they offer, depending on the applications.

The cleaning system combines the TENG with an electrodynamic dust shield (EDS), which uses traveling-wave or standing-wave electrodynamic effects to repel dust particles from a surface. The use of the EDS, on the other hand, is not new in solar energy research, as previous scientific works considered its use as a potential anti-dust solution for mitigating soiling loss.

The researchers said that the triboelectric generator they developed can be energized by stomping a foot on it several times. It can also vibrate without losing energy and generate alternating high voltage for periods of about 10 seconds.

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“The generator showed a high energy conversion efficiency of about 50.8%, and it was confirmed that it could generate a high level of output to sufficiently operate the dust removal panel with a maximum voltage of 2.6 kV,” the scientists explained, noting that the achieved efficiency is considerably higher than that of similar TENGs.

The South Korean researchers claim that the system was able to remove 79.2% of the dust from a solar panel after 12 foot strikes. They described their results in “Highly efficient long-lasting triboelectric nanogenerator upon impact and its application to daily-life self-cleaning solar panel,” which was recently published in Nano Energy.

“Collectively, this work provides a strategy for harvesting energy from impacts and offers a useful application for self-cleaning solar panels,” they said. They illustrated how the system works in a video clip published on KAIST's YouTube channel.

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