Hornet energy inspires solar cell

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Scientists at Tel Aviv University have uncovered a unique solar energy mechanism from the Asian hornet. The insect utilizes a system of nanostructures to direct light to specialized pigments that harness the energy and in turn fuel the wasp's activity. Researchers then tested a dye-sensitized solar cell based on the hornet pigment. Their ongoing research will explore the nanostructures responsible for light direction.

Key Differentiators

Dye-sensitized cells substitute light-harvesting pigments for the inorganic light harvesting compounds in other solar cells. They offer different performance criteria and capabilities, and represent an important area of research. The development of new pigments suitable for dye-sensitized cells is important to the advancement of the field. The ability to harvest UVB is also attractive due to its high energy. Specialized nanostructural coatings that direct light to pigments could also have significant effects.

Biomimicry Story

After noticing that Asian hornet activity is correlated to sunlight intensity, researchers explored the structure of the insect's abdomen. What they found is extraordinary. UVB radiation seemed to be the most relevant factor for hornet activity. Layers of nanostructured grooves and depressions split light and direct it to granules containing the pigment xanthopterin. The first prototype was a dye-sensitized cell that contained the pigment xanthopterin. Because the researchers have not yet replicated the grooves and depressions, the conversion efficiency was low, but future research will focus on these structural features.

Challenges Solved

Solar energy harvesting, solar energy direction, UVB harvesting.

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Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis)

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