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Scientists Use Origami To Engineer More Efficient Solar Panels

Written by EMS

Scientists have used a Japanese origami technique to harness solar energy using kirigami solar cells.

Kirigami is a form of the Japanese art of paper folding — origami. However, kirigami differentiates from standard origami as the paper can be cut, as well as folded, writes Christian Science Monitor.

Traditional solar panels are designed to be flat, which works against efficiency as this design limits the surface area of each panel. The sun is constantly moving, which inspired researchers at the University of Michigan to create a product that followed the movement of the sun during the day. They took inspiration from kirigami to create a contracting lattice design able to follow the sun’s solar energy output even as it changes positions throughout the day.

When researchers tested their design at a solar panel farm in Arizona, they found that the kirigami panelproduced 36 percent more photovoltaic energy compared to traditional flat solar panels.

Attempts have been made to improve the efficiency of solar panels, however the motorized solution, which involves rotating panels to follow the sun, has made installation expensive. Kirigami solar panels, however, twist over a radius of 120 degrees when the panel is stretched, which allows the cells to face the sun wherever it is positioned while the panel remains stationary.

“We did try a lot of patterns, and it turned out that this simple pattern was actually one of the best,” explains Max Shtein, one of the authors of the published article and an associate professor of engineering and materials science at the University of Michigan. “It has this property where it kind of moves out of its way and prevents shadowing.”

However, there is one tradeoff for having kirigami panels – they have to be twice as big because, “you’re stretching the solar cell, so you have to have room to stretch it into,” explains Shtein. It is not until the strips began contorting to follow the sun that look different to conventional panels.

Shtein is confident about the versatility of kirigami-designed panels, but still has to impress scientists Keith Emery, who evaluates solar panel designs for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Emery has signaled that there are a number of potential flaws in the design including the durability of the material and whether it could withstand extensive stretching.

This new design has shown to increase energy efficiency, but scientists are also working toward reducing photovoltaic systems.

“As we try and further and further decrease the cost of solar electricity and increase the amount of power we get, we will transition towards other types of geometries that have better performance and cost less,”says Shtein. “We think it has significant potential, and we’re actively pursuing realistic applications. It could ultimately reduce the cost of solar electricity.”

The paper was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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