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[VIDEO] Renewable Energy: New Solar Panels Inspired By Japanese Paper Cutting

Sep 11, 2015 05:01 PM EDT
New Solar Panels
University of Michigan researchers were inspired to create solar cells that can track the sun. They modeled the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting.
(Photo : Aaron Lamoureux)

Kirigami, the Japanese art of paper cutting, has inspired University of Michigan (U-M) scientists to develop lightweight, sun-tracking solar cells that are able to absorb 36 percent more energy, according to a recent study.  Better yet, along with scientists, a paper artist at the university was involved in the design.

"The design takes what a large tracking solar panel does and condenses it into something that is essentially flat," Aaron Lamoureux, first author and doctoral student in materials science and engineering at U-M, explained in a news release.  

In order to track the sun, traditional solar panels need to be heavy and bulky. According to their study, a team of engineers paired up with artists to design a solution to this problem. Their creation was smaller solar cells that tilt within a larger panel. This allows their surfaces to move perpendicular to the sun's rays.

"The beauty of our design is, from the standpoint of the person who's putting this panel up, nothing would really change," Max Shtein, a U-M associate professor of materials science and engineering, said in the release. "But inside, it would be doing something remarkable on a tiny scale: The solar cell would split into tiny segments that would follow the position of the sun in unison."

With the help of Matthew Shlian, a paper artist and lecturer in the U-M School of Art and Design, the researchers were able to adapt their paper creations to more precise patterns using the space-grade plastic, Kapton. According to the release they developed a model that has rows of cuts, so that plastic pulls apart into a basic mesh. This allows interconnected strips of the plastic to tilt proportionately to the stretching mesh.  

Their design is simple, stretches easily, and allows a lot of tilting without losing width--so the sun has a sufficient amount of surface area to work with, the release noted.

"We think it has significant potential, and we're actively pursuing realistic applications," Shtein said in the release. "It could ultimately reduce the cost of solar electricity."

Their study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

A video further describing the lightweight, tilting solar panels can be found online. 

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).  

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