Sunflower-influenced solar panels could harvest 400% more energy.
That’s the suggestion from researchers at the University of California Los Angeles and Arizona State University, who have developed an innovative new type of solar technology they have christened SUNbots.
Each SUNbot can automatically bend towards light thanks to its ‘stem’, part of which is made of a material that heats up and shrinks when exposed to light – this causes the stem to bend, pointing the solar panel ‘flower’ directly towards light sources.
When the panels are ideally positioned, they create a shadow over the stem, meaning it stops bending.
Many living organisms track light sources and halt their movement when alignment is achieved – this is called phototropism and allows plants and trees to maximise the efficiency of their photosynthesis.
Researchers tested the stems by building a panel of SunBOTs, each of which are less than a millimetre wide, with and without the bendy stem technology – those with the special stems were able to harvest up to 400% more solar energy.
They said: “This behaviour mimics the elegant agility of living systems, which leads to novel intelligent materials.
“Practically, our SunBOTs provide a long-sought solution to energy harvesting via the autonomous maximisation of the input power density.”
The researchers add the artificial phototropism mechanism they have created has potential impacts across a number of energy, robotics and environmental applications.