The secret to cheaper, more efficient solar power may lie in the unassuming wings of butterflies. The Cabbage White butterfly folds its wings in a v-shape in order to heat up their flight muscles before launching into the air. Scientists at the University of Exeter found that by replicating this posture with solar panels, they could increase solar output by nearly 50 percent.
Butterflies’ ability to fly on cloudy days is limited by the energy the insects can get from the sun. But the Cabbage White butterfly is able to take off sooner than other types of butterflies even on cloudy days. Researchers discovered this is because the Cabbage White positions its wings in order to concentrate sunlight onto its thorax and speed up the “charging” process.
Taking a cue from this information, the researchers were able to create a new, lightweight material that can be positioned in a v-shape to concentrate sunlight on solar panels. And in so doing, they increased solar output by nearly 50 percent.
Of course, this isn’t the first time researchers have turned to nature for inspiration. But this discovery is particularly exciting because of its implications for solar power everywhere. “Biomimicry in engineering is not new. However, this truly multidisciplinary research shows pathways to develop low cost solar power that have not been done before,” said Professor Tapas Mallick, lead author of the research.