Butterfly wings lead to better solar energy collection

  • Chicago (IL) - Scientists in Asia studying butterflies have made an interesting observation regarding their wings and the collection of solar energy. This simple research could lead to more efficient solar cells for powering homes and businesses.

    Chinese and Japanese scientists were looking for "new materials to improve light-harvesting in so-called dye-sensitized solar cells," which are said to have the highest light-conversion efficiencies among all solar cells. These researchers ended up turning to the microscopic solar scales on butterfly wings and, using these as a template, made copies of them. These copies were then transferred to the dye-sensitized solar cells, also known as Grätzel cells for inventor Michael Grätzel.

    Tests of these solar cells, reported in the Chemistry of Materials journal, show that "butterfly wing solar collector absorbed light more efficiently than conventional dye-sensitized cells." Conclusions drawn from this research suggest this procedure could lead to more economical and efficient solar cells down the road.

    "We studied a novel photoanode structure inspired by butterfly wing scales with potential application on dye-sensitized solar cell in this paper," reads the abstract of this study. "Quasi-honeycomb like structure (QHS), shallow concavities structure (SCS), and cross-ribbing structure (CRS) were synthesized onto a fluorine-doped tin-oxide-coated glass substrate using butterfly wings as biotemplates separately.

    "Morphologies of the photoanodes, which were maintained from the original butterfly wings, were characterized by scanning and transmission electron microscopies. The results show that the calcined photoanodes with butterfly wings’ structures, which comprised arranged ridges and ribs consisting of nanoparticles, were fully crystallined. Analysis of absorption spectra measurements under visible light wavelength indicates that the light-harvesting efficiencies of the QHS photoanode were higher than the normal titania photoanode without biotemplates because of the special microstructures, and then the whole solar cell efficiency can be lifted based on this."