Chamelic is a spin-out company from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Leeds. Chamelic Ltd was established in February 2006 to exploit innovative chemicals discovered and developed at the Institute Particle Science and Engineering (IPSE).
Improving Performance and Reducing Maintenance of CSP Systems with Copolymers
Interview with Jeff Eaves & Simon Biggs | Chamelic
Tell us a little bit about your product and how it works?
Our products are based on novel copolymers that can adhere strongly to a wide range of surfaces providing a very high density of coverage. The copolymers are designed such that one block adheres strongly to the surface and the other projects away from the same surface making that surface unattractive for dust and dirt to stick to. The copolymers should form aggregates and these aggregates deposit onto the surface resulting in a very high coverage of the copolymer and an efficient barrier to the dust and dirt. Importantly, the polymers are able to adsorb from a water based formulation and the layer that adheres is only nanometres thick meaning it is essentially invisible. This allows it to be used on a wide range of substrates including optically transparent ones with no detrimental effects.
What spurred the development of this product?
My research group has had a long standing interest in the use of polymers as surface treatments. In recent years we have become increasingly interested in copolymer aggregates and how they adsorb at surfaces from liquid formulations. Whilst undertaking our fundamental research, we noticed that these coatings provided a range of interesting effects associated with wetting and particle adhesion. This led us to start thinking about possible applications for these films as dirt repellent coatings for surfaces. After improvements to the chemistry of the copolymers to enhance various effects, we noticed that the polymers gave excellent dust repellency which then led us logically to thinking about solar power!
What makes dust build up a problem for concentrating solar power?
Concentrating solar power uses mirrors to focus sunlight either on a receiver tube or a solar tower. Because the light needs to be focused, even small amounts of dust and dirt build up cause significant loss in power production because the sunlight becomes scattered. This results in operating companies having to spend significant amounts on water for cleaning and in areas where water is often a scarce resource such as the South West USA and Middle East. Loss of conversion efficiency due to soiling is also a big problem for Concentrating Photovoltaic (CPV) technology as has been shown by Emcore.
How much water / maintenance on average is currently needed in a typical CSP plant and how much water / maintenance could the use of your product save?
It depends on how dirty the environment is and therefore how much washing is needed. Although we don’t know the exact figures, we've seen reports of the Kuraymat plant in Egypt washing every day with a daily water consumption of around 10,000 gallons of water, roughly enough to supply 240 households in London. More typical may be washing once each week. Trials conducted in Arizona suggest Chamelic's RepelSmart solar product can reduce the need for washing from weekly to once every two months. For a 45MW plant currently washed weekly, this could mean a saving of one and a half million gallons of water each year.
Tell us a bit about how the product installation, is it fairly easy?
ReplelSmart solar is really easy to apply. We are targeting the operations and maintenance companies, our product is simply added to the spray tanks currently used for cleaning and sprayed onto cleaned mirrors.
Does your product change the reflectivity of solar mirrors?
This is a really important question. RepelSmart solar forms a molecularly thin layer on the surface of the mirror, this is thinner than the wavelength of visible light and so the reflectivity of the mirrors is unchanged by the treatment.
How long does the product last in typical solar plant conditions?
In the dry conditions of the Arizona trials the RepelSmart solar continued to perform for eight weeks, after which a heavy rain storm reduced the performance to a level where re-treatment was needed.
Can your product be used in Photovoltaic arrays or just CSP?
Absolutely. We know of a small PV site in the Middle East that is washing twice each week and we think CPV is great opportunity for us.
Where is Chamelic at with roll out of this product? Do you have any field results?
Yes, we tested in house in our on labs, independently at an indoor test facility in the UK and at two outdoor sites in Arizona. We're now keen to find commercial partners to trial the product and to move on to sales.
What is the next step and can this product be produced at large scale?
The next step is the commercial trials. The active component is a novel, patent protected polymer that can be produced at large scale using widely available chemical plant. We have a production partner that has facilities around the world.
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