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Smart Coatings Turn on Tomorrow

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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Functional coatings that respond to their environment could be a critical piece of tomorrow's energy puzzle—but only if the price is right, a new report says.

Smart coatings that enhance the energy efficiency of glass, wind turbines, solar panels and other substrates and products "have the potential to create added value in a huge range of applications" if they can perform well at a reasonable price, reports NanoMarkets, which provides industry analysis of advanced materials and emerging energy markets.

Fortunately for the wind and solar energy industries, coatings price and performance appear poised for a profitable union by filling that bill.

NREL National Wind Technology Center

Coatings not only improve wind turbine performance; they can also prevent, and perhaps even repair, damage to blades, experts say.

Smart coatings for both of these industries will be in demand in the next few years, according to "Smart Coatings Opportunities in Alternative Energy Markets," a report released Monday (Feb. 24).

Billion-Dollar Boon

NanoMarkets forecasts the market for smart coatings for solar panels to grow significantly, from $50 million in 2014 to $1.2 billion by 2020. - See more at:

The market for smart coatings for solar panels is forecast to skyrocket from $50 million in 2014 to $1.2 billion by 2020, according to NanoMarkets. Meanwhile, smart wind turbine coatings made from epoxies, polyurethanes and ethyl silicates should make up a $58 million market by 2020.

"We expect to see increased demand for coatings for solar panels and wind turbines as photovoltaics (PV) and wind energy become more prevalent and improved efficiency and low maintenance costs become increasingly important," the company says.

Smart coatings can provide antimicrobial and self-cleaning properties that can prevent the accumulation of microbes, debris, and dust particles on solar panels, thereby increasing the panels' life and improving their performance.

Coatings perform a similar role with wind turbine blades and, even more important, can help prevent damage to blades from airborne particles.

More opportunities in these markets are ahead, NanoMarkets reports.

Inherit the Wind Market

When it comes to balancing coating performance and price, the wind turbine market seems ready to get it right, the report says.

Turbine blades need to withstand especially harsh environmental conditions, and smart coatings that reduce wear and tear can enable turbines to run longer without maintenance, reducing operating costs. Airborne sand and rain can reduce the energy output of a typical wind turbine by up to 20 percent, according to NanoMarkets.

Blade convoy
Wikimedia Commons / Paul Anderson

A turbine blade convoy passes through Edenfield, England, on its way to a wind farm. "We do expect that smart coatings for wind turbine blades will be able to demonstrate sufficient performance benefits to be cost-effective," says NanoMarkets.

Most established brands of wind turbine coatings are based on polyurethanes, but smart coatings on the horizon claim to actually repair minor damage to blades, help operators detect the extent of that damage, or increase energy generation efficiency.

The Color of Damage

One example is a new type of coating system comprised of a composite material covered with a top layer of microencapsulated polymer spheres. These minute spheres undergo color changes in response to different levels of damage, acting as a visual indicator, the report says.

The spheres also contain resins that are released according to the level of damage, making the coating self-healing.

Some established manufacturers of polyurethane coatings already incorporate multiple components that extend service life and provide corrosion or abrasion resistance, the report says.

"For example, 3M makes a two-component polyurethane Wind Blade Protection Coating that is especially useful in offshore locations and deserts, where damage from airborne sand is a major concern," NanoMarkets reports.

Niche Growth

Worldwide wind power capacity is growing at a rate of 8 to 10 percent per year. Although the smart coatings market is a relatively small piece of that, "we do expect that smart coatings for wind turbine blades will be able to demonstrate sufficient performance benefits to be cost-effective," the report said.

Solar panels on house
Wikimedia Commons / Túrelio

Solar panel service life and performance are compromised by surface dirt and grime. Self-cleaning coatings can help reduce maintenance headaches.

The key will be new technologies that offer self-healing and corrosion-sensing coatings to protect and extend the life of turbine systems. Multifunctional coatings that can reduce maintenance "with minimal need for human intervention" will be in demand.

"NanoMarkets believes that the interest of the wind energy industry will boost research efforts in this domain, leading to the commercialization of these coatings," according to NanoMarkets.

Shielding Solar Panels

Better self-cleaning films may help the solar panel industry address one of its major maintenance challenges: the accumulation of dust and debris that can limit the amount of light absorbed by the panels.

NanoMarkets calls hydrophobic coatings "an excellent solution" that can repel water and prevent dirt and grime from clinging to the glass. Such coatings are especially useful in rainy climates, the report says.

One drawback to these coatings, however, is their lifespan of three to 10 years in exterior applications—much shorter than the expected lifespan of a solar panel.

"This issue, along with high cost, limits market penetration of these materials," NanoMarkets reports.

TiO2 Time

One option is inorganic coatings, based on TiO2 nanoparticles, the report says.

Solar panel array
Wikimedia Commons / JUWI Group

The market for smart coatings for solar panels, worth $50 million in 2014, should reach $1.2 billion by 2020.

TiO2-based coatings are designed to prevent dust accumulation and last 10 to 15 years. On the other hand, they break down only organic dirt, not inorganic matter.

Still, NanoMarkets is banking on TiO2 coatings to "continue to dominate the market for self-cleaning coatings in PV applications, despite limitations in the type of dirt they can remove."

"They cost much less than hydrophobic coatings and have a huge lifetime advantage, and this should be sufficient to ensure their continued dominance in this space."



Tagged categories: Coatings technology; Energy efficiency; Market; Nanotechnology; Protective clothing; Smart coatings; Solar energy; Wind Towers

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