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Japanese Art Inspires Design of Sun Tracking Solar Cells

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kirigami-sun-tracking-solar-cells@2xScientists developed solar cells that turn to face the sun on their own, without a need of expensive solar tracking system. The technology is inspired by the art of the Japanese kirigami.

New developments in the field of solar cells are currently exceeding all expectations- higher efficiency, sleeker looks, even great transparency. But no matter how advanced the technology is, one thing is always going to prevent it from being 100%, even if the sun is shining brighter than ever, and that is the fixed location of the panels.

In order to take care of this, many have turned to solar tracking systems that rotate the panels and make them follow the sun. However, these are often difficult, if not impossible, to use for rooftop solar, and even if they are, the extra cost is quite steep.

Now, a doctoral student Aaron Lamoureux and associate professor Max Shtein, who are engineers from University of Michigan, together with the promising paper artist- Matthew Shlian, have just reported a ground-breaking development that can put an end, once and for all, to that sun-tracking problem.

Just published in the prestigious journal, Nature Communications, their study presents a new design of solar cells, inspired by the Japanese art of kirigami (cutting of paper in various patterns). The pattern that served the purpose is very simple- it consists of lines of dashes, stacked and cut into a piece of paper.

The engineers took the artistic suggestion and implemented it onto a sheet of Kapton plastic with solar cells stuck onto it. When this sheet was stretched, the pieces of plastic between the cuts began twisting. The team then placed these under glass in a flat panel and observed that the cells were twisting to face the sun, while the panel was completely fixed.

The results were striking. The team observed that the kirigami panel produced 36% more electricity than what the solar cells could generate within a standard PV  panel. The new design was outperformed only when the panels were placed onto a solar tracking system, but the difference was only 4%.

Image (c) Aaron Lamoureux

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