A team from the University of Michigan has developed a new coating to improve the performance of solar panels in cold climates.

The clear coating, according to the researchers, is composed of polyvinyl chloride (PV) and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) plastic and silicone or vegetable-based oils.

Brushed or sprayed onto the solar panel, the clear coating reportedly reduced snow and ice accumulation on solar panels, thereby enabling them to generate roughly 85% more energy during testing. Additionally, the coating was determined to shed snow for up to a year.

To develop the coating, the researchers concentrated on two properties that have been the basis for previous ice-shedding coatings: low interfacial toughness and low adhesion strength. Low surface, otherwise known as slipperiness, means that the coating works on small areas, but the larger the surface, the more force is required to slide off snow and ice. As such, larger areas require breaking up the adhesion altogether. According to the researchers, low interfacial toughness accomplishes this, creating cracks between the ice and the panel that form along the panel, breaking the ice and snow free.

According to the study, the researchers employed a combination of low surface adhesion and low interfacial toughness to repel ice and snow from both small and large surfaces. They initially employed PVC plastic for low interfacial toughness and mixed in a small amount of vegetable oil to imbue the PVC with low enough surface adhesion. A second, equally successful solution was also devised using PDMS plastic and silicon-based oil.

The study, Facilitating large-scale snow shedding from in-field solar arrays using icephobic surfaces with low-interfacial toughness, appears in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com