Solving environmental challenges can seem like a Whack-a-Mole game: Once you think the basic problem upside down, other problems emerge.
One example of this is electric cars. While battery-powered cars have successfully overcome the significant environmental problems associated with fossil fuels, the manufacture and disposal of batteries poses various environmental problems.
Photovoltaic solar panels for electricity generation are another example.
according to EcoWatchAlthough renewable, emissions-free solar energy is a much better option than fossil fuels, mining, melting, and cooling raw materials to make panels leaves a carbon footprint. And like electric car batteries, getting rid of old PV panels doesn’t have a good solution yet.
Yanir Alloush identified another issue with solar farms when he was Director of Technology and Vice President of Operations and Technologies at Wadi Arabaa leading developer of PV systems in Israel: The panels must be cleaned frequently to maintain efficiency, but this raises the problem of water wastage.
It’s a big dilemma, especially in arid regions where there are many solar farms (like Arava Power’s): you have less water and more dust to clean the panels.
Osas Alloush Air Touch Solar In 2017 to meet the growing global demand for solar panel dry cleaning robot.
He is chairman and technical director of the company, whose robotic, waterless cleaning systems have boosted solar energy production by up to 30 percent for customers in Israel and India to date.
“Our products help solar energy producers achieve environmental goals of saving water and transmitting more renewable energy,” Alloush told Israel21c.
The unique Airtouch Solar method
Alloush explains that most robotic PV panel cleaners use a vertical, top-down motion on each panel.
The Airtouch Solar Robots’ Secret Sauce is a patented air blower that lifts dust and propels it forward horizontally along arrays of panels. Dust falls into the gaps between each group. Followed by soft towels that remove any remaining particles.
“When you clean from left to right, you have a lot of benefits. It’s faster and uses less energy, among other things. But you carry a lot of dust along the way,” says Alloush.
This is where the blowing action comes in.
“Most of the heavy dust is removed by the blower in the direction of cleaning, so towels only need to finish the job,” he says.
“This allows us to use very gentle microfibers instead of brushes. Not only does it clean the fabric better, but it also reduces fine scratches.”
Fine scratches – caused by coarse sand particles being dragged across the surface in the repeated cleaning process – degrade the anti-reflective coating on the panels, making them less able to absorb solar radiation.
And how is the microfiber itself cleaned? Alloush says there is a mechanism that vibrates the fabric during each cleaning cycle, a process aided by the movement of the air blower.
“By scrubbing the towel during each cycle, it gets to the plate with fewer particles in it,” he says.
Each deployed robot is connected to the company’s IoT (Internet of Things) system so that the process can be programmed and remotely controlled for the customer, allowing for real-time adjustments based on weather forecasts, wind speed and precipitation.
This is done without the need for unnecessarily complex technology such as sensors.
“From day one, we have focused on simplicity and protecting the plate,” says Alloush.
Tal Laufer, the company’s new CEO, adds, “We listened to customers and developed products based on their wish list. We didn’t say, ‘Let’s make a product and see if it fits into the market.’ That’s why Airtouch is so successful.”
Solar powered in a circular cycle
A key green feature of the Airtouch Solar robot cleaner: The system is self-contained, powered by the very solar panels it cleans.
“The robots have rechargeable batteries that are charged during the ‘sleep mode’ of the solar panels,” says Alloush, explaining that the robots typically work for an hour each day and “sleep” the other 23 (seems to be a good deal, right?).
Moreover, the blowing effect is achieved through an engineered mechanism that “does not require much energy or downtime and works well in a desert climate.”
Airtouch robots are designed to operate over the life of typical solar arrays of 25 years.
“We are committed to a complete maintenance program for 25 years,” says Alloush, explaining that this is a one-stop solution where customers pay an upfront fee for installation and an annual fee for service and maintenance.
room for everyone
About 35 employees work at Airtouch Solar’s headquarters in Beit Shemesh, where its research, development and manufacturing headquarters are located. Another 35 work on the company’s service and production site in India. The company went public in 2021.
The Airtouch Solar’s design is unique, but it has competitors in China and Israel – most notably based in Tel Aviv Ecopiaa nine-year-old industry pioneer who recently won the leading environment + energy award for his H4 robot to clean photovoltaic panels without water.
However, Alloush and Louvre say there are more than enough opportunities for everyone. The target market for automated cleaning solutions is estimated to be around $11 billion.
Solar energy is a hot technology (pun intended) these days, while water is a dwindling resource.
Therefore, Airtouch Solar began to search for new markets such as the United States.
“Israel and many countries are currently recalculating their path to adopting clean energy sources, such as those derived from the sun, as part of an increasing transition towards these sources. Our solutions help mitigate the fear that drought and the water crisis will delay the transition to renewables,” says Loufer.
“We are proud that Israeli technology helps the world be cleaner and less polluted.”
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