Did you know that melanin, the pigment in hair, is light sensitive and can be used as a conductor? Well, that’s what an 18 year old in Nepal recently discovered, and is now using human hair to replace silicon in solar panels. Since the price of hair is considerably cheaper than silicon, this enterprising youth may have just found a breakthrough technology to help bring down the cost of solar and give thousands of people in developing nations access to affordable renewable energy.
Malin Karki had already been trying to create affordable renewable energy from hydro currents for a few years, but the project had become too expensive. But then Karki, who attends school in Kathmandu, started reading a book by Stephan Hawking that discussed ways of creating static energy from hair. From this idea, Karki realized that melanin was one of the factors in energy conversion, and that it could possibly serve as a substitute conductor. He and four other classmates worked on a prototype, which they found could charge a cell phone or a pack of batteries for lighting.
The panels themselves are 15 inches square and can produce 9V or 18W of power and cost around $38 to produce. Karki thinks that if they were mass produced though, they would cost half as much. In Nepal, human hair costs about 25¢ for half a kilo and can last for several months. Hair is also basically a renewable resource and can be replenished by the owner of the solar panel as it wears out. This low cost and low tech device could be a revolutionary step in solar power bringing down the cost of the technology, bringing power to the masses and using materials which are common to everyone in the world.