New, more durable solar cells inspired by honeycomb design of insect eyes

solar cells
Seanjoh/123RF
Biomimicry is the imitation of models or systems found in the natural world with the goal of solving human problems. It’s something that’s been covered a fair bit as applied to robotics, with researchers borrowing inspiration from types of naturally occurring locomotion or materials. Investigators from Stanford University are doing something similar with a new photovoltaics project — except in this case, they’re using the design of an insect’s eye to inspire a new generation of solar cells.

Their work involves replicating the compound eye of an insect by packing multiple tiny solar cells, made of a photovoltaic material called perovskite, together in a hexagonal scaffold. Packing them together in this way makes them more durable when the cells come into contact with heat, moisture, or mechanical stress.

These are things that regular solar panels are able to deal with without incident. However, perovskite is an extremely sensitive material that’s liable to break extremely easily. By using a dense honeycomb pattern, that effect is mitigated. It also means that, should one segment of the solar cell break, hundreds more will still operate.

insect eye solar cells design fracture test
Dauskardt Lab/Stanford University
Dauskardt Lab/Stanford University

In tests, the researchers found that their material could survive temperatures of 185 Fahrenheit and relative humidity of 85 percent for a period of six weeks, without any negative effects.

The reason why perovskite is a desirable material to use, despite its weakness, is that it is cheap and easy to produce, while its efficiency has greatly improved over the eight years since it was introduced. “We got nearly the same power-conversion efficiencies out of each little perovskite cell that we would get from a planar solar cell,” said Reinhold Dauskardt, professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, and senior author of the study. “So we achieved a huge increase in fracture resistance with no penalty for efficiency.”

We’ll have to wait and see if this solar cell concept catches on, but it’s certainly an intriguing proof of concept. Between this and other similarly intriguing “invisible” solar panel projects, there’s certainly no shortage of innovative work being done in the photovoltaics field right now.

A research paper describing this project was recently published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Water-based fuel cell converts carbon emissions to electricity

Scientists from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have developed a system which can continuously produce electrical energy and hydrogen by dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution.
Photography

Authentic, holistic, retro photography is in: Here are 2019’s predicted trends

What types of imagery are we most drawn to? According to recent stock photography data from Adobe, StoryBlocks, and Shutterstock, authentic, holistic, and humanitarian content will be in high demand in 2019.
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Tiny animals discovered in Antarctic lake deep beneath the ice

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in Antarctica: the carcasses of tiny animals including crustaceans and a tardigrade were found in a lake that sits deep beneath over half a mile of Antarctic ice.
Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.
Emerging Tech

Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists have developed elastic microbots that can change their shape depending on their environment.
Emerging Tech

Dinosaurs never stood a chance after asteroid impacts doubled 290M years ago

The number of asteroids pummeling Earth jumped dramatically around 290 million years ago. By looking at Moon craters, scientists discovered that d the number of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon increased by two to three times.
Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.