Setting it straight about science fair solar energy breakthrough

There’s been a lot of stories about arranging solar panels to mimic leaves on a tree, thereby boosting their efficiency. But before reading that story you might want to check out this blog post correcting some flaws in that breakthrough (page is down, here’s a cached version).

Before we go any further, we’d like to point out that the original work was done by a seventh grader. He looked at leaves on trees and postulated that the Fibonacci sequence can be found in the layout of leaves, and that by laying out solar cells in the same way you can capture more sunlight. Comments can get negative fast around here, so remember that trashing his work may discourage other kids from participating in science fair events.

Anyway, long story short: there were some issues with original assumptions, and about what was actually being measured during testing. The article linked at the top covers the fact that the cells were not measured under load, and that simple calculations can show why the tree-mimicking-cell-placement can be proven sub-optimal to 45 degree, south-facing solar farms.

[Thanks Jeffery and Steve for the original article and Brian for the follow-up article and cached link]

DIY Solar Panels

solar

Reader [unangst] pointed out to us an article in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, where a teenager from Nepal had managed to create a 9v, 18W solar panel using human hair rather than the usual semiconductors (usually crystalline-silicon). The complex silicon in solar panels are what keep the prices out of reach of developing nations, and while there are a number of new technologies that are helping  bring down the cost, [Karki] managed to make his solar panel for only £23 (roughly $38). He also claims that when mass produced the price could drop substantially down to under $10 a panel, which would shatter the $1/watt sweet spot.

The melanin in hair acts as an organic-semiconductor, and while the hair does not have the longevity that silicon panels have (months rather than years), these panels can be made cheaply and serviced with little to no complex knowledge. Using melanin as an organic semiconductor seems to be a newer idea, because information seems hard to come by, but we managed to find a research paper from 2007 that explored the energy absorption attributes of melanin, as well as some good background info for the science types.

Research Paper (Warning: PDF)

So, Hack a Day readers, which one of you is going to make your home-brew solar panels first? Let us know when you do.

Thanks [unangst].

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