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Sunflower Movement Inspires New Solar Panel Design

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By Brittany Lyte, Revmodo.com

The sunflower inspired a researcher to create a new solar panel system that rotates toward the sun, increasing the energy harvesting capability by 10 percent.

In nature, sunflowers rotate slowly from east to west as the sun passes above them during the course of the day. This attempt allows the flowers to soak up as many rays as possible. This phenomenon, called heliotropism, is the springboard for a new solar design engineered by professor Hongrui Jiang, a University of Wisconson-Madison researcher.

“The idea is that wherever the sun goes, it will follow,” said Jiang.

Jiang’s design uses liquid crystalline elastomer, which contracts in the presence of heat, and light-absorbing carbon nanotubes to achieve heliotropism. When sunlight hits a mirror beneath the solar panel, it is reflected to focus onto one of multiple actuators made of LCE and carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes warm as they absorb light, and the difference of heat causes the LCE to contract, causing the assembly to bow in the direction of the strongest sunlight.

Jiang hopes his design will be implemented across the country.

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