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Sudbury's floating solar panels could power island nation

Early next year, Sudbury-developed clean energy technology is expected to be tested off the coast of Malta, a small European island nation in the Mediterranean Sea.
MIRARCO researcher Kim Trapani shows a flexible solar panel designed in Sudbury that will be tested in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Malta. Photo by Jonathan Migneault.
Early next year, Sudbury-developed clean energy technology is expected to be tested off the coast of Malta, a small European island nation in the Mediterranean Sea.

Kim Trapani, a Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO) researcher who is originally from Malta, worked on light flexible solar panels that can float on any body of water.

Malta is one of the world's smallest countries. Its entire landmass is 316 square-kilometres, about one-tenth the size of Greater Sudbury.

With a population of around 450,000 people, Malta does not have a lot of room for infrastructure to produce energy – but must meet strict European Union standards to increase its green energy production.

Most of the country's energy production comes from oil – and less than one per cent is from renewable sources. By 2020 Malta will need 10 per cent of its energy to be from green sources to meet its European Union requirements.

MIRARCO's floating solar panels proved to be a perfect solution for Trapani's homeland.

The not-for-profit corporation, affiliated with Laurentian University, has partnered with the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology to develop the Offshore Passive Photo-voltaic Project.
By next March, the project plans to install a floating array of solar panels, measuring about 20 metres by 20 metres, that will have a peak output of eight kilowatts.

In Sudbury, that would be enough for three typical homes,” Trapani said.

Trapani and other researchers will observe the solar panel array for one year. The proof of concept could lead to larger scale energy production projects using the same technology.
The biggest challenge in developing the flimsy solar panels, was finding the right hydrophobic – or water-repelling – materials to protect the solar cells.

Because the panels are flexible, Trapani said, they will be well-suited for the changing water surface about one kilometre off the coast of Malta.

The panels – which will be surrounded by warning buoys – will also pose less of a risk to ships than solid solar panels, which would also require expensive support structures.

Dean Millar, Trapani's supervisor and the MIRARCO research chair of energy in mining, said the flexible solar panels that will be used in Malta will also be effective in a mining environment.

“Wherever they are located, mines tend to consume appreciable amounts of energy to support mineral production,” he said in a release. “The Maltese demonstration project is a world first that aims to prove thin-film PV technology in the saltwater marine environment, but it has also been developed as an electricity generating system for mines.”

Millar has been in talks with mining companies to install the floating solar panels on tailings ponds, where they can supply additional power for mining activities.

The panels would also solve a problem some mines face, where they need to contain mineral dust that escapes their tailings ponds with covers. The panels would provide that cover.

 “Our OPPV ( Offshore Passive Photo-voltaic) technology could have game-changing implications for the mining industry, especially with remote minesites, by providing clean and cheap energy that can be set up where needed with relatively little infrastructure. These demonstration projects aim to prove longer term reliability,” Millar said.

Darren MacDonald

About the Author: Darren MacDonald

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