We can now fold up solar panels that are nearly unbreakable and take them with us anywhere.
Instead of one solid sheet, these highly portable panels are made from a pliable network of glitter-sized solar cells.
A typical solar panel—more than five feet long and encased in glass—isn’t exactly portable. But a new type of solar technology, miniaturized so that each cell is the size of a piece of glitter, could be used anywhere.
The tiny cells are made from high-efficiency silicon, like standard solar panels. But the new form means that they’re not only small but flexible, and can be folded up for transportation, incorporated into clothing, or easily used in electronics.
Conventional solar panels “are brittle because they’re crystalline,” Murat Okandan, CEO of mPower Technology, the startup making the new technology, tells Co.Exist. “If you bend or flex them, at some point they’ll just break and shatter. By making our cells small and then interconnecting them we’re able to make them almost unbreakable.”
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A team of students and faculty from the University of Virginia School of Engineering created a prototype design of a solar powered wheelchair with retractable panels inspired by the idea from a man with cerebral palsy from Turkey. Their goal was to create a prototype of a solar powered wheelchair with retractable panels for individuals with lower extremity or mobility disabilities, spinal cord injury, or cerebral palsy. The Solar Powered Team (SPT) created the prototype using a Shoprider 6Runner wheelchair. They built a structured frame around the base of the wheelchair to hold the solar panels. Three solar panels were attached to a convertible-like structure which rotates back behind the wheelchair.
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Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed solar cells that are lighter than ever before, modeled after “kirigami,” the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting.
A team of engineers and an artist developed an array of small solar cells that can tilt within a larger panel, keeping their surfaces more perpendicular to the sun’s rays.
“The beauty of our design is, from the standpoint of the person who’s putting this panel up, nothing would really change,” said Max Shtein, associate professor of materials science and engineering. “But inside, it would be doing something remarkable on a tiny scale: the solar cell would split into tiny segments that would follow the position of the sun in unison.”
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German Architect Andre Broessel believes he has a solution that can “squeeze more juice out of the sun”, even during the night hours and in low-light regions. His company Rawlemon has created a spherical sun power generator prototype called the beta.ray. His technology will combine spherical geometry principles with a dual axis tracking system, allowing twice the yield of a conventional solar panel in a much smaller surface area. The futuristic design is fully rotational and is suitable for inclined surfaces, walls of buildings, and anywhere with access to the sky. It can even be used as an electric car charging station.
“The beta.ray comes with a hybrid collector to convert daily electricity and thermal energy at the same time. While reducing the silicon cell area to 25% with the equivalent power output by using an ultra transmission Ball Lens point focusing concentrator, it operates at efficiency levels of nearly 57% in hybrid mode. At nighttime the Ball Lens can transform into a high-power lamp to illuminate your location, simply by using a few LED’s. The station is designed for off grid conditions as well as to supplement buildings’ consumption of electricity and thermal circuits like hot water.”
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