What is the problem your team addressed for this challenge and how is it related to climate change?
The problem we addressed was how we can improve the efficiency of a clean energy source using biomimicry. Coal, petroleum, and natural gas are our main sources of energy which produce the vast majority fuel, electricity, and heat used by people across the globe. They are to blame for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and 92% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States alone. Energy accounts for 60% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change. Clean energy, including solar energy, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and impact the climate for the better. (EPA 2018).
What does your design solution do? How does it solve or improve the problem you selected?
Our design uses the epicuticle pattern of the oriental hornet as a fluorescent solar concentrator. Just like on the hornet, the 3D printed shingle-like pattern concentrates UV light from the sun onto the thin-film solar panel, and increases the current output. If scaled-up to larger solar arrays, this solution could increase current produced by solar farms, and make solar energy a more useful energy source. Because solar energy does not emit greenhouse gases, our design could make a positive impact on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
How was your solution inspired by nature? What organisms did you learn from and how did what you learned inform your design?
Our solution was inspired by the Oriental Hornet. We got the design idea from the way the hornets epicuticle patterns are used to absorb and reflect sunlight. We looked at both colors and texture of the hornets epicuticle to see how they absorb and affect the current produced by a thin-film solar panel. Filtering the light reduced the current, so we used a 3D printer to print the epicuticle pattern directly onto fluorescent acrylic to use as a solar concentrator. When angled to reflect the sun, our prototype increases the current produced by the solar panel by 10-27%.