Kirigami isn’t quite as well known as it’s flashier cousin, origami, but the Japanese paper cutting technique is already being implemented in innovative new technology designs. Next up for kirigami? Making solar power more efficient.
Here’s the solar energy problem in a nutshell: Most panels sit on rooftops at a fixed angle. But the sun isn’t fixed: it arcs overhead from dawn to dusk. That means that for large portions of the day, even the most strategically placed solar powers are missing out on perfectly good sunlight. Even if your solar panels are designed to follow the sun, you have to tilt the entire panel for them to do so, which requires heavy machinery to do the heavy lifting on hundreds of pounds of solar equipment at a time.
Researchers on a team led by Max Shtein, a professor of materials science at the University of Michigan, have figured out a new way to make solar panels that follow the sun, maximizing the area in which its solar receptors are exposed to photons at all times of day. These flexible, amorphous panel strips are made of gallium arsenide that are cut in a kirigami-like fashion. The result is solar panels that, with just a little bit of force, ‘pull apart’ to follow the sun’s arc.
“It doesn’t take much force at all,” Shtein told MIT Technology Review, adding that while the approach is best suited for thin, flexible materials, it could work to make almost any solar cell up to 40% more efficient.
Although the University of Michigan has been been at the forefront of kirigami-based breakthroughs—it previously figured out a way to use kirigami to design flexible electronic circuit boards—this advance comes from a totally different team within the school. Looks like it caught a bug over there: what new use for kirigami will its materials scientists come up with next?