PV-Leaf is an innovative product designed by scientists at Imperial College London which is a replica of an actual leaf. Inspired by the process of natural transpiration, it is capable of generating electricity more efficiently. It has the tendency to produce 10% more electricity than traditional solar panels, while effectively addressing overheating issues. With potential for substantial energy and freshwater production, the PV-Leaf holds promise for advancing the global energy transition.
The PV-leaf design incorporates glass, photovoltaic cells, bamboo fibers, and hydrogel cells, creating a remarkable replica of an actual leaf. Through this technology, water can move and distribute evenly throughout the artificial leaf structure. Then, this water evaporates from the surface, thus cooling it down. This innovative design effectively removes the requirement of pumps, fans, control units, and costly porous materials. It not only produces more clean water and thermal energy, but also effortlessly adjusts to changes in ambient temperature and solar conditions.
The plant leaf comprises various structures that facilitate the movement of water from the roots to the leaves of the plant, accomplished through the process of transpiration.
Inspired by the elegance of plant leaves, the ingenious PV-leaf concept replicates the natural transpiration process, facilitating the seamless movement, distribution, and evaporation of water. PV-leafs effectively and economically extract heat from solar PV cells by imitating leaf vein bundles with natural fibers and replicating sponge cells with hydrogels. This is probably why this PV Leaf is more efficient in solar and water harvesting.
Scientists mimicked the process of transpiration in plants, and found that the artificial leaf has the potential to generate more electricity. Several experiments have shown that a PV leaf has the ability to produce more than 10% additional electricity than traditional solar panels, which typically lose up to 70% of the incoming solar energy to the surroundings. But what is the average solar panel output per day?
High temperatures lead to overheating of solar panels, sometimes up to 65° Celsius or more. This largely affects their efficiency as increased heat and temperature results in energetical movement of electrons in the semiconductor. This further leads to a higher resistance, resulting in reduced output.
Dr. Gan Huang, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Chemical Engineering and co-author of the study, said, “This innovative design holds tremendous potential for significantly enhancing the performance of solar panels, while also ensuring cost-effectiveness and practicality.”
According to Dr. Huang, the PV-leaf has the potential to use recovered heat and produce additional thermal and freshwater simultaneously. Since both will be generated within the same component, it is possible that the leaf could generate billions of cubic meters of water annually, if measured. Even though the technology is still developing, the research team is highly hopeful with this invention.
Professor Christos Markides, Head of Clean Energy Processes Laboratory, and author of the study, said, “Implementing this innovative leaf-like design could help expedite the global energy transition while addressing two pressing global challenges: the need for increased energy and freshwater.”
This PV Leaf is more efficient in solar and water harvesting, but Scientists have drawn inspiration from plants for energy generation previously too. As in May, a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge developed a type of artificial leaf that uses sunlight, converts water and CO2 into propanol and ethanol. They both are clean alternatives to petrol or diesel.