Japanese Paper Cutting Trick for Moving Solar Cells

Kirigami techniques could significantly boost power generation

1 min read
Japanese Paper Cutting Trick for Moving Solar Cells
Dynamic kirigami structures capable of solar tracking, consisting of monolithically integrated, single crystalline yet flexible, gallium arsenide solar cells on polyimide sheets.
Credit: Aaron Lamoureux, Kyusang Lee, Matthew Shlian, Stephen Forrest, Max Shtein – University of Michigan. Photos: Aaron Lamoureux.

To maximize the amount of electricity that solar cells generate, solar panels can be tilted to track the position of the sun over the course of a day. Conventional solar trackers can increase yearly energy generation by 20 to 40 percent, but they can be costly, heavy and bulky, limiting their widespread implementation.

Now materials scientist Max Shtein and his colleagues at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor have developed novel solar cells that integrate tracking into their design. The design involves a variation of origami known as kirigami, which uses both folding and cutting to create unique structures. They detailed their findings in the 8 September online edition of the journal Nature Communications.

The scientists cut kirigami designs into a 3-micron-thick flexible crystalline gallium arsenide solar cells mounted on plastic sheets. A solar cell array of this type can tilt in three dimensions in a highly controllable manner when its edges are tugged. So a quick pull can make it flex so that it is at the best angle for catching rays.

The researchers found that their new devices could generate roughly as much power as solar cells mounted on conventional trackers. Moreover, the kirigami trackers proved to be electrically and mechanically robust, with no appreciable decrease in performance after more than 300 cycles of activity.

Shtein and his colleagues suggest that kirigami solar panels could be simple, inexpensive and lightweight, and have widespread rooftop, mobile, and spaceborne applications. They added that kirigami systems might also be useful for phased array radar and optical beam steering.

The scientists are now exploring whether mounting solar cells onto more durable materials such as spring steel could make kirigami systems even more robust. 

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This Dutch City Is Road-Testing Vehicle-to-Grid Tech

Utrecht leads the world in using EVs for grid storage

10 min read
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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