US Scientists Develop Sunflower That Can Collect Solar Energy

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A new artificial sunflower has been created by US Scientists.

The tiny flower is under 0.04” wide and their ability to turn towards the light source makes them 400% more effective than their stationary counterparts.  This is a development that shows much promise in the sphere of solar power, potentially being used to power spaceships.

Researchers based in the University of California, Los Angeles, led the research which was aiming to raise the amount of energy that could be collected using a similar movement as that used by plants that move towards the sun.  This phenomenon, known as phototropism, enables the plant to optimize the amount of solar energy it gets.

Flower Power

The study has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, and indicated that the team had encountered significant challenges trying to replicate the behavior artificially which they overcame by developing a special type of polymer.

This material is responsive to light and the system has been called the SunBOT, a slightly catchier abbreviation of the full technical name:  sunflower-like bio-mimetic omnidirectional tracker.  The SunBOT works in multiple temperature ranges and does not need a power supply or human intervention.

The 'stem' of the plant was created using the polymer and topped with the 'flower' which is comprised of solar cells.  As the light shone at the SunBOT, the polymer stem got hotter and shrank.  This is what makes the flower turn towards the light.

These tiny sunflowers were then tested for efficiency and it was found that, compared with materials that remained stationary (non-phototropic materials), they were up to 400% more efficient.

There are likely to be numerous ways that the SunBOTs can be used, however, for it to make commercial sense the technology still has a way to go.  Once it does move forward, the research team are confident that it could be of use across multiple industries.Things like smart windows, solar sails, and intelligent energy generation have been highlighted and the study does show that the concept is sound.  We will likely see a lot more of these tiny flowers in the future.