Moth Eyes Provide Path To Better Solar

Nature, again, appears to be the best teacher. A few months ago we reported on MIT researchers who were taking cues from the photosynthesis process to develop photovoltaic cells with regenerative properties. Now, scientists in Japan have been inspired by the eyes of moths to create a film for solar cells that can boost efficiency by reducing the amount of reflected light.

Noboru Yamada, a scientist at Nagaoka University of Technology, led this new research with colleagues at Mitsubishi Rayon Co. and Tokyo Metropolitan University. According to a Science Daily story on their research, Yamada and his colleagues came up with their new technology after searching in nature for a broad-wavelength and omnidirectional antireflective structure. The best example they found? The eyes of the moth, which have a water-repellent coating that makes their eyes among the least reflective surfaces out there, helping them hide from predators in the dark.

moths, solar panel film, greater efficiency

image via Iowa State University

The film they came up with can, the researchers said, improve the efficiency of solar cells in a high direct-sun area like Phoenix by 6 percent and in a diffuse-sun area like Tokyo by 5 percent.  “People may think this improvement is very small, but the efficiency of photovoltaics is just like fuel consumption rates of road vehicles,” Yamada said. “Every little bit helps.”

Yamada and his colleagues said all they need to do now is make the film more durable and tweak it to work best for the different types of solar cells being deployed.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.