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Inspired by Nature: Scientists Find Groundbreaking Solution for Solar Storage

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One of the most common pitfalls of solar energy is storing it. On sunny days there is typically an excess of energy, which is lost if not captured. But, fortunately many battery storage options are now available, including this groundbreaking new electrode prototype from the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, which could store energy at a much higher capacity, about 3000 percent more than existing technology.


The highly compact electrode is designed to hook up to a supercapacitor, which can charge and discharge energy at a much faster rate than conventional batteries. This technology hasn't been used as a main storage mechanism for its lack of storage capability. The electrode solves that with an intricate and self-repeating pattern of circuits, known as fractals.

This visionary approach was inspired by ferns, which have a dense system of veins that transfer energy and water to the entire body of the plant. The electrodes are able to store the energy in these "veins" and the supercapacitor is able to transfer the energy when it is needed at a rapid pace, without little to no energy leaked.

"Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes—which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes—and we've used this naturally-efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level," said Min Gu, professor at RMIT and co-author of the research. "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."

Litty Thekkekara and Min Gu with their prototype. RMIT

The electrode is also very thin, so its applications could extend beyond solar panels. The team believes this may be the innovation engineers have been looking for to power cell phones, laptops, cars and buildings.

"Flexible thin film solar could be used almost anywhere you can imagine, from building windows to car panels, smart phones to smart watches," said lead author Litty Thekkekara. "We would no longer need batteries to charge our phones or charging stations for our hybrid cars."

The project is still in its infancy, but with some ingenuity, this may soon be the new future of technology.

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