Researchers in England have devised a concept for a new type of solar panel they call a “solar leaf.” The technology is a hybrid, bio-inspired concept that features a leaf-like shape, the ability for transpiration, and can use extra thermal energy, allowing it to capture more sunlight than the average solar cells currently in use.
The researchers believe this development could increase the solar leaf’s electrical output drastically compared to previous-generation solar panels. A chief part of that success is tied to the transpiration feature found within the new tech. Transpiration is a system most commonly seen in plants, and it is used to move water from the roots of the plant to its leaves, allowing it to cool itself.
By mimicking this feature, the researchers believe that their solar leaf can passively cool itself. This cooling method helps to mitigate around 75 percent of the warming effect experienced from the Sun, which is a big part of how photovoltaic cells like those found in solar panels lose their efficiency over time. Because it doesn’t lose its effectiveness, the researchers say it can harvest up to 13.2 percent more of the sun’s power than a conventional cell can.
Further, the solar leaf can also leverage its heat to produce fresh water and thermal energy, which the researchers hope could be used to power domestic space heating or even preheating for hot water. It’s also possible that the solar leaf could easily be adjusted at will to promote more production of freshwater, thermal energy, and electricity.
Of course, this is still just a concept. Full details on the solar leaf can be found in a paper published in Nature Communications. Since it is a concept, though, it’s unclear exactly how long it will take for us to see something like this in the real world. Other developments in solar power have helped create solar panels that generate electricity in the dark.