Researchers have designed kirigami solar panels, which follow the sun’s movement, thus increasing their efficiency and productivity. The source of inspiration for scientists at the University of Michigan was Kirigami, a Japanase art form which differs just slightly from origami because of the fact that it involves cutting paper instead of just folding it.
Thin solar panels were folded, cut and shaped in ways that would make them capable of tracking sun rays throughout the entire day. The final design, presented in “Nature Communications”, was achieved through the collaboration of paper artist Matthew Shlian, doctoral student Aaron Lamoureux and associate professor Max Shtein.
Researchers adjusted a flexible solar cell sheet to mimic the arc the sun makes as it moves across the sky. By cutting slits into the surface, they created a lattice pattern which contracts and expands, storing much more solar energy than classic panels.
“The design takes what a large tracking solar panel does and condenses it into something that is essentially flat”, explained Aaron Lamoureux, one of the study’s lead authors.
Experiments at an Arizona farm have shown that such structural changes in the shape of solar panels allow them to produce 36% more photo-voltaic energy. Regular solar panels are completely flat, which means that they can only absorb a limited amount of sunlight during the day.
This greatly reduces their productivity, especially when compared to solar cells equipped with a motor, which are 40% more efficient than traditional ones. However, these motorized sun-tracking solar panels tend to be bulky and cost-prohibitive.
As a result, kirigami models could be a viable, less expensive, but comparable alternative in terms of overall output and effectiveness. After all, these panels weigh 10 times less than conventional, motor-powered solar cells, which means they are much more suitable for being installed on rooftops.
According to the study’s lead authors, this discovery could have significant potential, and it could “ultimately reduce the cost of solar electricity”, provided that it is given practical applications. Such origami-inspired solar panels could also be much more visually-pleasing than regular designs, thus allowing them to be more easily incorporated into modern-day architecture.
The fascinating properties of origami have been used before in the name of science. For instance, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has recently invented a foldable pocket-sized drone, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has designed a miniature origami robot capable of swimming and dissolving.
Hiroshima University researchers have built a portable, expanding bridge that works like an accordion, while Arizona State University experts have created stretchable batteries that could be incorporated into people’s clothes.
Image Source: Nature.com