Finnish scientists claim leaf-like polymer coating can deliver 17% solar cell output increase

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Scientists working at the University of Oulu in Finland claim to have developed a new energy efficient nano structured polymer coating that can increase the energy output of solar cells by 17%.

By mimicking the structure of plant leaves, the physicists at the university’s Nano and Molecular Systems Research Unit found that they can reduce the amount of sunlight that reflects off a cell surface, thus allowing greater harvest and thus increasing output.

Led by researcher Wei Cao, the team took its inspiration from lotus and bamboo leaves to pursue this biomimicry approach.

"During evolution, plants have optimized their way of collecting solar energy," said director of the research unit Marko Huttula. "We merely copy the surface structure of leaves of various plants on a polymer foil. When this foil is placed on a solar panel, it will not receive more energy but reflection decreases and energy output increases."

The team believe that it can make these polymer surfaces water repellent and self-cleaning, and envision commercialization for the agriculture industry, particularly using solar energy to power winter vegetable production.

Further, the researchers also claim to have managed to mimic the nano surface directly on to both glass and silicon, and could theoretically revolutionize the entire solar panel production method.

"In the future we are going to see if the surfaces can be further developed by combining models to natural mimic surfaces, in order to exceed the results of evolution," added Huttula.

A spin-off company has been created to further advance the production method and application that has since been patented. The team will work closely with Chinese researchers to refine the process.