First Place - Middle School, International

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 7: Affordable & Clean Energy

  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities

2023 Youth Design Challenge

This design concept was developed by participants in the Institute’s Youth Design Challenge. The descriptions below are from the team’s competition entry materials.

School: Nanyang Primary School
Location: Singapore
Coach: May Liow
Team members: Liow Jun Kai

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Innovation Details

Singapore, a place where land space is scarce, uses photovoltaic (PV) panels positioned on rooftops as well as on the surface of water reservoirs as a sustainable source of clean energy. However, climate change and rising temperatures, as well as high cloud cover across the country, reduce the efficiency of solar panels. LUC-YDC, a team from Singapore, looked to nature to find a solution for more efficient solar energy. Their innovation, the Photovoltaic-Aurantiaca-Nucifera System (PANS), draws inspiration from the window plant as well as the lotus leaf. The window plant, found in the Namib Desert in South Africa, buries its stem beneath the surface and uses its exposed region as a lens to direct light inside without overheating. The lotus plant is known for its hydrophobic properties. LUC-YDC used both of these to inspire the creation of the PANS, a system that eliminates the traditional horizontal placement of solar panels and turns them vertically inside of water tanks that are found on rooftops. A hydrophobic transparent dome-shaped lid is used to bend the light onto the panels inside the water, and the orientation of the panels themselves allows for more solar energy to be captured.

The judges were especially impressed by how the team articulated the restraints and limitations of their project, showing a deep understanding of the design process.

How was your solution inspired by nature? What (at least two) organisms did you learn from? How effectively did you combine the biological strategies for the final design?

My invention is inspired from the Window Plant (Fenestraria aurantiaca), which can harvest energy from the sun without overheating or drying up and Lotus plant (Nelumbo nucifera) which has self-clean property. The plant’s adaptations inspire my design and installation of a system of underwater solar panels.

Adaptation structures of window plants are used to develop the design for the shape of the system as well as how solar panels will be arranged and deployed. The window surface of the system will be coated with a material inspired from the leaf of lotus plant.

What does your design solution do? How does it solve or mitigate the problem you selected? How did what you learn inform your design?

Vertically arranged solar panels (SP), more can be deployed, ideal for land scarce Singapore. SP deployment in reservoirs and water tanks – readily available water scattering systems. Multiple curved lenses on the system allow light to be refracted into scattering systems, more light can be absorbed by SPs, producing higher energy output. SPs underwater, prevent overheating and hence improve efficiency.

Dirty surface affects amount of light entering. Superhydrophobic material of lotus leaf onto the surface of the light capturing window of the system allows for self-cleaning property of the system without the need to deploy manpower/machines to clean the system.