Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Dr Gan Huang

A bio-inspired solar power leaf

Agriculture & Energy

The design increases operating efficiency and produces freshwater

Spotted: It is estimated that for every 10-degree Celsius increase in operating temperature, most photovoltaic (PV) panels become four to six and a half per cent less efficient. Many of the world’s sunny locales are also very hot, meaning that most solar panels are relatively inefficient, losing up to 70 per cent of the incoming solar energy to the surrounding environment. Inspired by the efficacy of the transpiration of leaves on trees, researchers at Imperial College London built a PV-leaf technology that generates energy and clean water while operating on a much simpler system. 

The PV-leaf does not use pumps, fans, or expensive new materials. Instead, natural fibres and hydrogels remove heat from the solar panels, ensuring that the thermal energy generated is used, rather than wasted. And in doing so, the process generates freshwater.

In tests, the PV-leaf increased the electrical efficiency of solar cells by more than 13 per cent. When the production of water is included, the solar cell efficiency rises to more than 74 per cent. That is a huge improvement when compared to the typical efficiency of less than 25 per cent for most commercial PV systems currently in use. Overall, researchers believe the new design could produce more than 40 billion cubic metres of freshwater annually if it was deployed to meet the global 2050 target for solar panel deployment. 

Solar power is a pillar of renewable energy, and the innovations in Springwise’s archive showcase the many ways the technology is being developed and used. Springwise has also spotted the use of greenhouse shade screens as energy generators and robot-assisted field manufacturing to produce PV farms at speed and scale.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Email: c.markides@imperial.ac.uk

Website: imperial.ac.uk/clean-energy-processes

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