Researchers Look to Butterflies for Solar Cell Improvements

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Solar collectors found on butterfly wings are being investigated as a means to improve the efficiency of a type of thin-film solar cells.

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The butterfly species Papilio paris (pictured) has wings with intricate solar collectors that trap and transport solar heat to the body. This evolutionary adaptation that is thought to help the insects tolerate cold weather may someday help to power our world.

Chinese scientists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University have recently found a way to copy and template the butterfly solar collectors for use in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs).  The preliminary research shows that the insect’s solar collectors have a honeycomb-like structure that effectively scatters and absorbs light.  By transplanting this honeycomb-like microstructure onto DSCs, scientists hope to increase the cell’s conversion efficiency in order to achieve a more commercially viable product.

The dye-sensitized solar cell (DSC) was invented by Michael Gratzel as an inexpensive and versatile alternative to traditional photovoltaic (PV) cells.  Since its conception, the DSC has excited proponents of solar energy with its glass-less structure that is able to both sustain high temperatures and function under low light conditions.  A major drawback with DSCs is that they are not yet as efficient at harvesting solar energy as PV cells.  This will hopefully change with continued research into improving the DSC’s ability to scatter and absorb light from the sun.

Source:  Chem. Mater., 2009, 21(1) | Photo:

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