By using kirigami, a variation of origami, which is the Japanese art of folding paper, a team of researchers developed a new technique to collect solar energy through solar panels. The paper was published earlier this week in the journal Nature Communications.
Unlike origami, the art of kirigami allows for the paper to be not only folded, but also cut. The kirigami solar cells differ greatly from the design of traditional solar panels, whose flat surface design reduces the potential efficiency. The researchers thought that if the sun moves continuously, they could use the art of kirigami to create a framework that could better follow the solar energy as its source moves across the sky.
After it was tested for the first time in a panel farm in Arizona, the panel produced 35% more photovoltaic energy than a traditional panel.
Solar panel efficiency has been debated many times before, but the only solution researchers have considered was motorized devices designed to rotate solar panels after the sun’s movement. The main issue, apart from the fact that the devices use energy, was the price. These systems would be way too expensive and heavy to be mounted on private rooftops.
With kirigami solar panels, the plastic strips with solar cells attached twist over a 120 degrees radius, allowing for the cells to be facing the sun as the panel is fixed motionless.
Max Shtein, co-author of the published paper and professor at the University of Michigan said that they have tried a lot of patterns, but the most efficient was one with a very simple design. The professor says that the design is as ingenious as it is simple, because it has the property of moving out of the way of its own shadow. Shtein explains that there is, however, a compromise with this design, because kirigami solar panels would have to be twice as big as regular flat panels since it’s stretching the solar cell.
Keith Emery, who works for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, evaluated the kirigami solar panel and said there could be a lot of potential issues about the design. He questions whether the material can withstand such extreme temperatures, and if the extensive stretching would affect the solar cells.
Another problem with the design is that it could be a bit too expensive to produce on a mainstream scale. The goals of engineers is not only to create systems with a great energy efficiency, but also reduce the cost of photovoltaic panels. But Shtein remains confident about his creation.
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