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article imageButterflies inspire new types of solar power

By Tim Sandle     Aug 4, 2015 in Science
Researchers are looking into new ways to generate efficient photovoltaic energy and for this they have been inspired by the v-shaped posture of the humble Cabbage White butterfly.
Photovoltaic energy is the science behind solar power, where light is turned into electricity. It is a two-set process. Step one is a photoelectric effect, triggered by sunlight. The second step is an electrochemical process where crystallized atoms are ionized in a series, which generates an electric current.
To improve the collection of sunlight, a research group have been inspired by the resting posture of the Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae). The species has a natural range across Europe, Asia, and North Africa. To many farmers, the butterflies are regarded as a pest; to others, they are pretty to look at. To one research group the butterflies are an inspiration.
The buttery adopts a v-shape in order to heat up its flight muscles prior to taking off. By creating solar panels in this formation, scientists think that the quantity of power that a solar panel can harness can be increased by around 50 percent.
The critical part is configuring the power-to-weight ratio. For this the researchers developed a lightweight reflective material.
The Cabbage White is different to many other butterflies is using the v-formation. On cloudy days butterflies need to wait to receive sufficient sunlight in order to fly. However, by harnessing the v-posture (known as reflectance basking) the Cabbage White is able to absorb more energy, at its thorax, more quickly than other butterflies. In addition, the butterfly can reflect sunlight from its wings, which allows its flight muscles to be warmed to an optimal temperature.
The new research was conducted at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) and the Centre for Ecology and Conservation. Discussing the findings with Laboratory Manager magazine, lead researcher Professor Tapas Mallick stated: “Biomimicry in engineering is not new. However, this truly multidisciplinary research shows pathways to develop low cost solar power that have not been done before.”
The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research is titled “White butterflies as solar photovoltaic concentrators.”
In related news, Digital Journal reported last week that scientists have been inspired by the eyes of moths to develop a next generation series of solar power cells. From one insect to another.
More about Solar power, Butterflies, cabbage butterflies, Energy
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