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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Japanese Art Goes Solar

Solar power… you'd think that in a place known as "The Land of the Rising Sun" it would have a lot of technology built around solar power…

Japan has it, sure, but only recently has it begun to really get into it… recently allowing foreign investments to construct solar power generation facilities for Japanese use.

One of the main problems with solar power is that you need to have the sun heat up the solar panels in order to convert it to electricity.

Obviously, weather is a huge influence on things, but so too is the fact that the sun travels across the sky, and therefore the solar panels aren't always in position to obtain sunlight.

The main solution, is of course the creation of a mechanical device that lifts and moves the entire solar panel to better reach the sunlight…

… but now there might be a different solution…. one involving the ancient Japanese cut-paper artform of kirigami.

You can read about that HERE, but let's just say that until one month ago, I had been creating kirigami for decades without knowing what the hell it was called.   

Using automation, rather than a whole panel being made to move, scientists at the University of Michigan are using photoelectric cells designed after a kirigami shape to bend as required to capture the maximum amount of sunlight onto itself.

The scientists discussed the project with paper artist Matthew Shilian (I had no idea that could be a real profession), who also lectures at the University of Michigan's School of Art and Design (ah, so he has a real job, too).

Shilian suggested a kirigami pattern that would work—stacked lines of slits cut into a piece of paper… which if you've ever seen kirigami, you'll know that is pretty much what all kirigami paper art is about… anyhow… he gave them a shape to try.

The scientists - PhD student Aaron Lamoureux and associate professor Max Shtein then created a version of it on a sheet of Kapton plastic polyimide film (made by DuPont) with solar cells already applied to it.

The scientists used the flat Kapton plastic sheet to create the kirigami shape designed (offered) by Shilian.

The sheet sits flat, but when stretched and bent, and raised to capture the sunlight, the slits allow it to better twist and bend, which also allows the operator to achieve better control of individual sheets.

So - break out the Nobel Peace Prize and sunblock, right?

Uh… no.

Yes it works and is all very feasible… the kicker is that it doesn't actually capture as much sunlight as the moving panel!!!!

Results so fare have the kirigami-inspired cells capturing 35 percent more sunlight than a standard immovable solar panel. Very good.

The thing is, the moving panel actually captures 40 per cent more sunlight than the standard immovable solar panel.

This means the kirigami-based solar cells take in four percent less sunlight than the best solar-grabbing technology currently in use.

So why do I even bother writing about this? Well, No. 1, I needed something to write about with a Japanese angle, but No. 2, it's still just in the initial phase of testing. Perhaps with better manipulation of the kirigami cells, it can pull in much more sunlight.

Plus, if you think about it, this design SHOULD actually draw in more sunlight onto its photovoltaic cells.

I would assume that right now its limitations are due to the experience of the operators, or of the software used to follow the sunlight.

Software operators should contact those involved to see if they do need the help. As I said, that was an assumption by my self.

The research paper was published in Nature Communications HERE.
Andrew Joseph
PS: Images credit: Aaron Lamoureux

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