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Solar: US researchers design advanced solar capture tech

Pic credit: Aaron Lameroux
New solar design, adopts techniques from kirigami, a paper-cutting technique stemming from the ancient Japanese art of origami. Pic credit: Aaron Lamoureux

In the US, science and engineering students of the University of Michigan, have developed a new design for solar panels, which compared to existing solar panel technology, can capture almost 40% more power from the sun.

The new solar design, adopts techniques from kirigami, a paper-cutting technique stemming from the ancient Japanese art of origami, the University said in a statement.

The solar cells have the capacity to capture almost a third more energy than that of conventional solar panels.

New solar tech smaller, lighter

Aaron Lamoureux, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering at the University of Michigan said: “The design takes what a large tracking solar panel does and condenses it into something that is essentially flat.”

According to the researchers, the weight of the current solar inverter technology cannot be sufficiently supported by household rooftops.

The University explained in a statement: “Residential rooftops make up about 85% of solar panel installations in the U.S., according to a report from the Department of Energy, but these roofs would need significant reinforcing to support the weight of conventional sun-tracking systems.”

The small solar cells can tilt within a larger panel, keeping their surfaces more perpendicular to the sun’s rays.

Max Shtein, associate professor of materials science and engineering said: “The beauty of our design is, from the standpoint of the person who’s putting this panel up, nothing would really change.

“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.”

Solar cell technology

Pic credit: Aaron Lameuroux
These solar cells have the capacity to increase capturing capacity by 40%. Pic credit: Aaron Lamoureux

The University has described the solar cells as: “A flat plastic sheet backing the solar cells splits into wavy, connected ribbons when stretched. The tilt of the cells depends on the stretching, a simple mechanism for tracking the sun across the sky.”

After experimenting with various patterns and designs, the most effective one was the simplest one: “With cuts like rows of dashes, the plastic pulled apart into a basic mesh. The interconnected strips of Kapton tilt in proportion to how much the mesh is stretched, to an accuracy of about one degree.”

Kyusang Lee, a doctoral student in electrical engineering, together with Lamoureux, first designed the custom solar cells and then attached them to an uncut piece of Kapton, leaving spaces for the cuts. Lamoureux then patterned the Kapton with the laser cutter.

According to Schtein: “We think it has significant potential, and we’re actively pursuing realistic applications. It could ultimately reduce the cost of solar electricity.”

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.