When trying to develop cleaner, more efficient technologies, many engineers and designers start by trying to improve upon existing designs. But there’s evidence that the best way to move forward, may be to look backward. All the way back to the original engineer–Mother Nature.
Biomimicry uses the models, systems, and processes found in nature to inspire new products and technologies, particularly those that involve the use of renewable energy. And the Solar Lotus, a device for energy and heat generation, is an excellent example of the innovation biomimicry can inspire.
Designed by Dr. Joseph Hui, founder of Monarch Power, the Solar Lotus emulates the lotus flower’s folding petal patterns to create an efficient surface for gathering sunlight. At four meters-wide, the new Lotus features 18 “petals” that are capable of opening and closing just like a flower. Users can activate the device by pulling open the center six petals, and a network of “strings” go about opening the rest.
When closed, the Lotus is protected from potentially damaging elements like wind and rain. When open, the petals convert sunlight into both electric and thermal power–enough to deliver 3 kW of photovoltaic electrical power and 3 kW of solar thermal power per 100-kg (220-pound) unit in ideal conditions. Because water is used to cool the Lotus’ solar cells, hot water is a natural by-product that requires no extra energy to produce.
The fact that the Solar Lotus can be set up on the ground, rather than a roof, and is light enough to be transported by truck, could make it an ideal solution for emergency energy generation in disaster zones. With a projected price tag of under $9,000, which is comparable to the Smartflower cost, the Lotus could be a renewable energy solution for both homes and businesses at about $1.50 per watt.