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Solplus; a novel transparent coating for PV solar cells

A build-up of dirt and dust on solar panels can reduce the power output by as much as 50%, with the only solution being to brush, blow or wash the debris from the surface of the panels or to simply accept the reduction in the amount of electricity generated.

Problem solving

However, this is set to change following the formation of the SolPlus consortium, which was led by Marta Alvarez of the TWI Functional Coatings and Resins team alongside SMEs and other research providers.

This consortium submitted a proposal for a feasibility study to InnovateUK under the Energy Catalyst 2 programme and successfully found a solution to the problem using an innovative materials-by-design approach and TWI’s novel, nanostructured, patented functionalised additives (VitoNano™).

The twelve-month programme found that highly repellent coatings with anti-reflective characteristics could be made. These coatings increased the water repellence of the glass from ~20˚ to almost 130˚, meaning the water and water-borne contamination was readily removed from the surface. Furthermore, the repellence remained high even after being subjected to aggressive abrasion (100 cycles), falling sand, thermal cycling between -40˚C - 85˚C (200 cycles), 500 hour UV exposure tests and more than 1000 hours under damp heat conditions.

Business

As a result of the project, lead SME partner Opus Materials Technologies filed a patent on the technology using the brand name SolarSharc™ alongside an e-commerce platform to market the product ( www.sharcmatter.com), and are now an exclusive licensee of TWI’s VitoNano™ technology.

David Hannan, Business Development Director, who is leading the development of the Sharc Matter® platform said, ‘We are delighted to have secured this exclusive licence following negotiations with TWI.  Having experience of the technology through the development of Solar Sharc, a self- cleaning coating for Solar PV, we recognised the broader application of TWI’s VitoNano® technology, and are looking forward to facilitating market access for the first time. Industrial application for products such as anti-foul coatings and novel adhesives we believe is just the tip of the iceberg and the technology can provide multiple benefits.’

Next steps

Interest in the project has been received from the US, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, but the story doesn’t end there, as the SolPlus partners have won further funding from InnovateUK for the next phase of the development work as an intermediate scale project.

Meanwhile, the scale-up and application of the technology is now being pursued in the emerging European BIPV sector under an EC funded Fast Track Innovation project. This is one of the first projects to be won by the newly created Advanced Resins Coatings Technology Innovation Centre (ARCTIC) - a partnership between TWI and London South Bank University. The project consists of partners from Finland, Spain, France and the UK, and is being led by ARCTIC director Professor Géraldine Durand.

For more information, please email contactus@twi.co.uk.

Avatar Marta Alvarez Senior Project Leader – Functional Coatings and Resins

Marta is Senior Project leader (CEng MWeldI AMIChemE, MEng, BEng) at the Functional Resins and Coatings department at TWI, with significant experience in the design, delivery, and management of programmes to develop novel, high performance functional coatings. Her focus is on the delivery of high-profile technical project work to cost and quality levels in accordance with client requirements, professional standards, and environmental sustainability; her responsibilities include developing substantial business including customer interaction, proposal writing, and project management and coordination. She is the co-ordinator of the European Collaborative project EIROS (H2020 ongoing project, GA 685842, 18 partners consortium, total budget of EUR8M). She is also the Project Manager for the current projects ICEMART (Innovate UK funded project, Ref 102776 , 8 partners, £1.3M total project budget), Project SOLPLUS (ongoing Innovate UK funded project, Ref 132147 , 5 partners, £0.4M total project budget). Marta previously managed project ICEFREE (Innovate UK funded project, Ref 101531, 4 partners, £0.5M total project budget). Since she joined TWI in 2012 she has also supported both technical and management activities in other projects such as TEXSHIELD (FP7, GA 315497), COMPIPE (CleanSky, GA323514) and COEUSTITAN (FP7, GA 246256) EU collaborative funded projects and other projects receiving direct industrial funding.