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Scientist Develops Water-Resistant Solar Panel Coatings Inspired by Iridescent Butterfly Wings

Posted By Beth Buczynski On October 19, 2012 @ 5:19 pm In biomimicry,News,Renewable Energy,Solar Power | No Comments

Shu Yang, University of Pennsylvania, butterflies, butterfly wings, holographic lithography, solar panels, solar efficiency

Butterflies [1] are beautiful, delicate marvels of nature. While their lovely appearance may be inspiring, there’s nothing a butterfly can teach us about renewable energy – or is there? An ambitious University of Pennsylvania professor named Shu Yang recently used holographic lithography to develop a material that mimics the iridescent and water-resistant qualities of butterfly wings [2]. The project garnered enough attention that the teacher landed a grant to develop butterfly-inspired hydrophobic coatings for drier, cleaner and hence more efficient solar panels [3].

Shu Yang, University of Pennsylvania, butterflies, butterfly wings, holographic lithography, solar panels, solar efficiencyButterfly Wing [4] photo from Shutterstock [5]

Most of us aren’t even aware of what makes real butterfly wings so pretty, so the idea of recreating the effect in a static material is even more mind-boggling. New Scientist explains [6] how it works:

“Yang used holographic lithography to recreate the wings’ reflective properties, using a laser to make a 3D [7] cross-linked pattern in a kind of material called photoresist. A solvent then washes away all the photoresist untouched by the laser, creating the 3D structure that affects light to create the colour effects. Then a poorer solvent roughens the surface, creating the texture that makes butterfly wings water-resistant.”

While a more beautiful solar panel [8] certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing, you might be wondering why Yang went through all this trouble to make panels that imitate the butterfly. Apparently, it’s a case of form influencing function – solar panels spend a lot of time directly exposed to the elements. When dirt and moisture builds up on the surface, efficiency decreases–drastically. Yang’s special coating could help preserve solar efficiency [9] by keeping panels clean and dry without a lot of extra effort.

In the future, Yang envisions covering entire buildings with the iridescent substance. The coated buildings could be connected to a chip that lets the owners change the color and transparency. There wouldn’t be any specific energy conservation gains, but it sure would be beautiful.

+ Advanced Function Materials [10]

Via New Scientist [6] and Treehugger [11]

Lead image via Advanced Functional Materials

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URL to article: http://inhabitat.com/scientist-develops-water-resistant-solar-panel-coatings-inspired-by-iridescent-butterfly-wings/

URLs in this post:

[1] Butterflies: http://inhabitat.com/tag/butterflies/

[2] butterfly wings: http://inhabitat.com/art-made-from-thousands-of-butterfly-wings-sells-for-2-million/

[3] solar panels: http://inhabitat.com/tag/solar-panels

[4] Butterfly Wing: http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-22025131/stock-photo-texture-of-butterfly-wing-blue-morpho.html?src=6a584c845064972a3fe29ee27d53be5e-1-81

[5] Shutterstock: http://www.shutterstock.com/

[6] New Scientist explains: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2012/10/butterfly-wing-wafers-to-clad.html

[7] 3D: http://inhabitat.com/tag/3D/

[8] solar panel: http://inhabitat.com/solar-power/

[9] solar efficiency: http://inhabitat.com/tag/solar-efficiency

[10] + Advanced Function Materials: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adfm.201200013/abstract

[11] Treehugger: http://www.treehugger.com/solar-technology/butterfly-wings-inspire-holographic-solar-panel-coatings.html

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