Researchers at the University of Michigan have created a new type of solar cell that draws inspiration from an ancient Japanese art form known as kirigami. Kirigami is the art of paper cutting. These new solar panels are able to track the sun without requiring conventional motorized trackers. Those conventional trackers are too bulky for use in some instances.
Motorized sun trackers can be used on standalone installations of conventional solar panels and when used, the tracker allows the panels to capture 40% more of the sun’s energy. The problem is that the standard trackers are too heavy and bulky to use in places like pitched rooftops and on vehicle surfaces.
Inspired by kirigami, the researchers designed a new type of solar panel that has an array of small solar cells that can tilt within a larger panel to keep the surface of the panel perpendicular with the sun. One of the big benefits of this new design is that from the installer’s perspective, nothing changes.
The new panels are installed exactly like conventional solar panels. The solar panels were created in part by using a plastic material called Kapton cut using a carbon dioxide laser. The simplest patter turned out to work best and is cut like a row of dashes with the stretched plastic turning into a basic mesh. The Kapton strips tilt in proportion to how much the mesh is stretched with accuracy to one degree.