NOV 08, 2019 3:44 PM PST

Sunflowers Inspire Solar Harvesting Technology

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

One of the most remarkable capabilities of living things is phototropism—in which living organisms track and move with light sources. The most familiar example of this phenomenon is flowers that move and angle themselves to face sunlight throughout the day. Scientists from the University of California (Los Angeles) and Arizona State University have replicated this natural phenomenon using synthetic materials to harvest solar energy.

According to an article in Nature Nanotechnology, the sunflower-inspired humanmade phototrophic systems are named sunflower-like biomimetic omnidirectional tracker—SunBOT, for short. They were created by combining a photo-responsive material with a thermo-responsive material to create the phototrophic polymer. The photo-responsive material absorbs light to convert to heat and the thermo-responsive material contracts when exposed to heat.

Each SunBOT is less than 1 millimeter wide and was designed to bend toward light stimuli like a plant stem. When researchers fired a beam of light at a SunBOT from different angles, the stem bent directly at the light source. The article reports that the SunBOTs can “autonomously and instantaneously detect and track incident light in three-dimensional space…without auxiliary power or human intervention.”

The research team estimates that an array of SunBOTs could achieve up to a 400% solar energy-harvesting enhancement over materials that are not phototrophic. According to Popular Mechanics, most solar panels are photovoltaic, meaning solar energy is converted into electricity in real-time. However, SunBOTs have the potential to create thermal solar energy, which, according to Popular Mechanics, “is an array of gathering cells intersticed with a liquid or gas that conducts heat.” This, in turn, can be used as solar vapor energy, which is stored more easily.

The scientists report that SunBOTs may be useful not only for enhancing solar harvesters, but also smart windows, solar sails for spaceships, intelligent energy generation, and more. Furthermore, they believe that “the principle behind [their] SunBOTs is universal and can be extended to many responsive materials and a broad range of stimuli.”

Sources: Nature, Popular Mechanics

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
DEC 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 15, 2019
For Squirrels, Benefits to Moving Away From Home Are Sex-Dependent
When squirrels grow up, they often face the tough choice of staying at or near the same location where they were born or moving on to bigger and better pla...
DEC 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 15, 2019
Eagle vs. Octopus
The animal food chain is somewhat straightforward, with larger animals often hunting smaller animals in an attempt to ensure their own survival. Unfortunat...
JAN 05, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 05, 2020
Frozen rivers on the decline
A study entitled, "The past and future of global river ice," is the first comprehensive study to quantify temporal shifts in river ice cover on s...
JAN 06, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
JAN 06, 2020
Psychedelics Linked to Stronger Connection to Nature
Taking psychedelic drugs, sometimes referred to as “tripping,” was recently shown to increase individuals’ “nature relatedness&rdqu...
JAN 14, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 14, 2020
That awkward conversation: climate change
New research published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability takes a psychological angle at understanding why people deny climate change. Focu...
JAN 26, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 26, 2020
The Life of an Arctic Squirrel
There is no overstating the fact that the Arctic Tundra is a cold and unforgiving place. There are few plants or animals that can survive in this extremely...
Loading Comments...