Solving environmental challenges can seem like a game of Whack-a-Mole: As soon as you bop the primary issue on its head, others pop up.
One example is electric vehicles. While battery-operated cars successfully whack the big environmental problems associated with fossil fuels, the manufacture and disposal of the batteries pose different environmental issues.
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels for electricity generation are another example.
According to EcoWatch, although emission-free and renewable solar energy is a far better option than fossil fuels, the mining, melting and cooling of raw materials to make the panels does leave a carbon footprint. And like EV batteries, disposing of old PV panels doesn’t have a good solution yet.
Yanir Allouche identified another problem with solar farms when he was the CTO and VP Operations and Technologies at Arava Power, a leading Israeli PV developer: the panels must be cleaned often to retain efficiency, but that raises the problem of water waste.
It’s a big conundrum, especially in arid areas where many solar farms (such as Arava Power’s) are located: You have less water and more dust to clean from the panels.
Allouche founded Airtouch Solar in 2017 to address increasing worldwide demand for a dry-cleaning robot for solar panels.
He serves as chairman and CTO of the company, whose autonomous, water-free, robotic cleaning systems are boosting solar energy output by up to 30 percent for clients in Israel and India thus far.
“Our products help solar energy producers to meet environmental targets of saving water and transferring more renewable energy,” Allouche tells ISRAEL21c.
Airtouch 3.0 from Nadav Cohen on Vimeo.
Airtouch Solar’s unique method
Allouche explains that most robotic PV panel cleaners use a vertical top-to-bottom motion on each panel.
The secret sauce of Airtouch Solar’s robots is a patented air blower that lifts and pushes the dust forward horizontally along arrays of panels. The dust falls into the gaps between each cluster. Following close behind are soft towels that remove any remaining particles.
“When you clean left to right, you enjoy a lot of benefits. It’s faster and consumes less energy, among others. But you’re carrying a lot of dust along the way,” says Allouche.
That’s where the blowing action comes in.
Airtouch Solar’s robotic PV panel cleaners remove dust horizontally across the array. Photo courtesy of Airtouch Solar
“Most of the heavy dust is removed by the blower in the direction of the cleaning, so the towels only need to finish the job,” he says.
“This allows us to use very gentle microfiber instead of brushes. The fabric not only cleans better, but also minimizes micro-scratches.”
Micro-scratches — caused by dragging scratchy sand particles across the surface in the frequent cleaning process — deteriorate the antireflective coating on the panels, making them less able to absorb solar rays.
And how is the microfiber itself cleaned? Allouche says a mechanism shakes the fabric out during each cleaning cycle, a process aided by the action of the air blower.
“By cleaning the towel during every cycle, it comes to the panel with less particles in it,” he says.
Each deployed robot is connected to the company’s IoT (Internet of Things) system so the process can be programmed and controlled remotely for the client, allowing for real-time adjustments based on forecasted weather, wind …….