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Kirigami steers solar panels

By David, 15 December 2015

A solar panel cut into a lattice shape.

Kirigami cuts make this solar panel move.
Image: Aaron Lamoureux

When you’re installing solar panels, it’s important to point them at the Sun. But the Sun isn’t always in the same place – it moves across the sky over the course of a day. If you can aim the panels towards the Sun as it moves, they can produce up to 40 per cent more power than if they are stationary. But it’s hard to aim a big, flat solar panel: especially when it’s attached to your roof.

A team of United States researchers had an idea to solve this problem. Instead of using flat solar panels, they thought they could use flexible solar cells that can bend to face the light.

The researchers approached Matt Shilan, a paper artist and engineer, who helped them create patterns based on kirigami: the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting and folding. Starting with paper, and then moving on to a flexible plastic called Kapton, they tested many designs.

They found that the best design was also the simplest. It contained many dashed lines of cuts, which opened up into a lattice when stretched out. As the holes opened, the surface of the plastic tilted at an angle: perfect for pointing at the Sun.

Once they’d decided on the design, the research team was ready to make the real thing. They took some flexible solar cells, attached them to a piece of Kapton and cut their design. By stretching and releasing the panel, they could aim it at the Sun, collecting 38 per cent more power than a normal, stationary panel.

It could be a while before you see Kirigami solar panels on a roof near you, though. A lot more research is needed yet, such as finding out how to build a supporting structure, and how to protect the panels from harsh weather conditions.

 More information

Kirigami solar panels
Origami solar panels for space

This article first appeared in Science by Email. Sign up to Science by Email to receive science news, activities and quizzes. It’s free!

1 comments

  1. This is a great step for mankind. With renewable power becoming as cost efficient as fossil fuels, it will become a viable option for people. Hopefully with these improvements, people will be more willing to use a clean form of energy to power their homes!

      Reply

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