go to top scroll for more


Projects: Projects for Investigator
Reference Number EP/V043617/1
Title 'Invisible' Solar Technologies from Bio-Inspired Optics
Status Started
Energy Categories Renewable Energy Sources(Solar Energy, Photovoltaics) 100%;
Research Types Basic and strategic applied research 100%
Science and Technology Fields SOCIAL SCIENCES (Sociology) 5%;
PHYSICAL SCIENCES AND MATHEMATICS (Metallurgy and Materials) 30%;
ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY (Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering) 30%;
UKERC Cross Cutting Characterisation Not Cross-cutting 70%;
Other (Energy technology information dissemination) 30%;
Principal Investigator Dr K Shanks

University of Exeter
Award Type Standard
Funding Source EPSRC
Start Date 01 January 2022
End Date 16 July 2025
Duration 43 months
Total Grant Value £352,997
Industrial Sectors Energy
Region South West
Programme Energy : Energy
Investigators Principal Investigator Dr K Shanks , Engineering, University of Exeter (100.000%)
  Industrial Collaborator Project Contact , Swansea University (0.000%)
Project Contact , University of New South Wales, Australia (0.000%)
Project Contact , Yorkshire Photonic Technology Ltd (0.000%)
Project Contact , ART and ENERGY (0.000%)
Project Contact , Fab Foundation (Fab Labs) UK (0.000%)
Project Contact , Kernow Coatings Ltd (UK) (0.000%)
Project Contact , Suzhou Talesun Solar Tech Co. Ltd. (0.000%)
Project Contact , University of Jaen (0.000%)
Project Contact , Upcycled Glass Company (0.000%)
Web Site
Abstract Nature has optimised structures over billions of years through natural selection, a process which will forever exceed any 'trial and error' optimisation routine carried out by ourselves. Engineers can learn much from these achievements. The Cabbage white (Pieris brassicae) and Glasswing (Greta-Oto) butterflies have uniquely lightweight reflective and transparent wings which has been previously proven to be 17x lighter than current optical materials. Solar Concentrators (such as magnifying lenses designed for focusing the suns light) are a developing technology, which can utilise cheap glass or plastic optics to concentrate sunlight onto photovoltaic panels (these Concentrator photovoltaic systems are called CPV systems). These systems can reduce the amount of expensive heavily mined photovoltaic material required whilst maintaining the overall power output. CPV's can however be cumbersome, and so there lies a great opportunity to marry these disciplines of concentrator photovoltaics (optics+Solar panels) and natural lightweight structures (butterfly wing nanostructures) via biomimicry to gain significantly higher power-to-weight ratios for solar energy technology. Renewable energy, integrated into smart grids, buildings, vehicles and surrounding infrastructures, is an important pathway to reducing carbon emissions and advancing a sustainable lifestyle within society. This complex challenge demands interdisciplinary research and innovative design. This fellowship aims to manufacture novel bio-inspired optics capable of at least tripling the power-to-weight ratio of concentrator solar energy technology. The surface structure of optics has significant effects on the light redirection and absorption. Micro-structured optics and coatings have shown rewards of increased power output and reliability for CPV devices but reduced weight designs require exploring. Fresnel lenses -an already lighter truncated version of convex lenses- only became popular with the discovery of lightweight poly(methylmethacrylate) (PMMA), making them more affordable and practical. This was a breakthrough for CPV in its very early years, and encourages further breakthroughs to entail new weight reduction methods matched to specific concentrator designs, as proposed here. This will be done on a nano, micro and macro level of engineering to obtain optimal performance and ensure outputs and impact. The production of high performing lightweight CPV panels which are more discreet than current PV panels and even invisibly integrated into buildings is the ultimate objective. This fellowship outlines theoretical and experimental methods, with strong focuses on materials and manufacturing characterisation aided by industrial collaboration and exploitation to credit the wide-spread impact of this pioneering research. Interdisciplinary research such as this will provide new solutions and understanding to firstly the disciplines of solar energy, optics, manufacturing, nanotechnology and biology but also branching off to incorporate the public perceptions of energy through collaborations with artists and companies to increase the impact of this research as well as showcasing and encouraging interdisciplinary research itself
Publications (none)
Final Report (none)
Added to Database 16/02/22