Australian scientists have reported a major breakthrough in #Solar Cell technology, and believe they can increase efficiency by up to 3000 percent. In an industry that is rapidly improving, this is just the latest in a long line of solar innovations that continue to usher humanity closer to an age of viable sustainable energy. Like previous innovations combining plant photosynthesis with photovoltaic technology, this new breakthrough also owes its discovery to nature.

Introducing the Swordfish Fern

Scientists in RMIT have been studying the #Fractal patterns that allow the swordfish fern extremely high levels of efficiency in terms of water and energy storage.

Veins in the leaves are densely packed in an intricate series of repeating, self-replicating patterns that saves space and allows the fern to store more energy than other plants many times larger. RMIT scientists have found a way to turn that to their advantage by applying the same fractal principle to the design of the electrodes in their new solar cell electrodes.

"The immediate application is combining this electrode with supercapacitors, as our experiments have shown our prototype can radically increase their storage capacity – 30 times more than current capacity limits," says Professor Min Gu, who is spearheading the project in Australia. Gu compares the fractal design of the electrode to the structure of a snowflake, adding "we’ve used this naturally-efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level."

What does this mean for the future?

Solar energy has been rapidly emerging as a viable alternative to reliance on traditional fossil fuels, with proposals for total solar overhauls in areas with damaged infrastructure like Puerto Rico.

Limited and inefficient storage has been the main issue, holding back the industry with up to 80% of the energy being wasted in some cases. Gu and his team may be about to change all that. “Capacity-boosted supercapacitors would offer both long-term reliability and quick-burst energy release - for when someone wants to use solar energy on a cloudy day for example - making them ideal alternatives for solar power storage.”

The laser-reduced graphene used to make the electrodes allow for a thinner and more flexible design that surpasses older models, allowing the #Cells to hold their charge for longer and with far less energy leakage, meaning that thy are far more efficient. Still in their infancy, the electrode prototypes are very promising and are sure to make a big impact on the solar industry when they're ready for use.

It doesn't end there - the technology used to make the electrodes can be applied to solar film as well, greatly increasing the number of potential applications for solar energy.

The film can be applied to windows, cell phones, and car rooftops with ease, but the current models are still thick and bulky. The laser-reduced graphene has promising implications for the development of thinner, more efficient solar film using the fractal design technology for increased and better storage, meaning that solar energy could be about to shine in a whole new way.