Innovation That Matters

New solar technology inspired by butterfly wings


An engineering team in Australia have pioneered new, highly-efficient solar cell technology modelled on the wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly.

The flapping of a butterfly’s wings in a laboratory in Australia may not affect weather patterns around the world, but they have inspired new solar cell technology. Engineers at the Australian National University’s Research School of Engineering have invented tiny structures, inspired by the wings of the blue Morpho Didius butterfly, that allow them to precisely manipulate the scattering, reflection and absorption of different colours of light. Applications for the technology include the development of very high-efficiency solar panels, architecture, and stealth applications.

The engineers developed their technology after examining the tiny cone-shaped nanostructures on the butterfly’s wings that scatter light to create a striking blue iridescence. Lead researcher Dr. Niraj Lal said the team applied the same principles used in the butterfly’s wing to develop similar structures which allow them to finely control the direction of light in experiments. With more and more uses for solar power being developed all the time, including solar-powered boats, water purifiers, and even entire homes, increased efficiency is crucial to the continued growth of solar technology. The nanostructures developed in Australia may make it possible for scientists to greatly improve the efficiency of solar cells with effective light management, by allowing different layers of the solar cell to absorb different colors of light.

Dr. Lal theorized that the technique could one day be used to make opaque objects transparent to certain colors, and vice versa, as part of new stealth applications. ”Using our approach, a window could be designed to be transparent to some colours, non-see through and matt textured for others – so there are very cool potential applications in architecture,” Dr Lal said. According to Dr. Lal, the intricate nanostructures grow and assemble themselves, and does not require expensive technology, making the technique for creating the tiny cones scalable and cost effective.




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