A new leaf-like solar panel developed by researchers at Imperial College London can harvest solar energy and produce freshwater, imitating natural processes in plants. The invention, called PV-leaf, uses cost-effective materials and has the potential to inspire future renewable energy technologies.

A new study has shown that PV-leaves can generate 13% more energy than traditional solar panels, which typically lose up to 70 percent of incoming solar energy. If efficiently deployed, the PV-leaf could generate over 40 billion cubic meters of freshwater annually by 2050, according to Interesting Engineering.

Dr. Gan Huang, the Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Chemical Engineering and author of the research, stated that the design has great potential for improving solar panel performance in a cost-effective and practical manner.

The artificial leaf design eliminates the need for pumps, fans, control units, and expensive porous materials. Furthermore, it can adapt to various solar conditions, provide thermal energy, and withstand ambient temperatures.

Professor Christos Markides, the Head of Clean Energy Processes Laboratory and study author, believes that implementing this innovative leaf-like design can accelerate the global energy transition and address the vital challenges of energy and freshwater demand.

The PV-leaf is inspired by real leaves and replicates their transpiration process, where water moves from the roots to the tips of leaves. This innovative design allows water to circulate, distribute, and evaporate through the PV-leaf.

The use of natural fibers imitates leaf veins. Meanwhile, hydrogels mimic sponge cells, effectively dissipating heat from solar PV cells.

Scientists have previously drawn inspiration from plants to develop energy solutions. For instance, in October 2019, researchers from the University of Cambridge designed an “artificial leaf” that used sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to produce a clean gas called syngas.

In a similar vein, in August 2020, scientists from the same institution created floating “artificial leaves” that used photosynthesis to generate clean fuels from sunlight and water. These autonomous devices, light enough to float, offered an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional solar panels that require land space.

The Imperial College London researchers recently published their report about PV-leaves in Nature Communications.

Image Source: Empress Alexandra Maria, https://shorturl.at/bEV19