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White butterflies as solar photovoltaic concentrators

Shanks, Katie; Senthilarasu, S.; Ffrench-Constant, Richard H.; Mallick, Tapas K.


Katie Shanks

Richard H. Ffrench-Constant

Tapas K. Mallick


Man’s harvesting of photovoltaic energy requires the deployment of extensive arrays of solar panels. To improve both the gathering of thermal and photovoltaic energy from the sun we have examined the concept of biomimicry in white butterflies of the family Pieridae. We tested the hypothesis that the V-shaped posture of basking white butterflies mimics the V-trough concentrator which is designed to increase solar input to photovoltaic cells. These solar concentrators improve harvesting efficiency but are both heavy and bulky, severely limiting their deployment. Here, we show that the attachment of butterfly wings to a solar cell increases its output power by 42.3%, proving that the wings are indeed highly reflective. Importantly and relative to current concentrators, the wings improve the power to weight ratio of the overall structure 17-fold, vastly expanding their potential application. Moreover, a single mono-layer of scale cells removed from the butterflies’ wings maintained this high reflectivity showing that a single layer of scale cell-like structures can also form a useful coating. As predicted, the wings increased the temperature of the butterflies’ thorax dramatically, showing that the V-shaped basking posture of white butterflies has indeed evolved to increase the temperature of their flight muscles prior to take-off.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 12, 2015
Online Publication Date Jul 31, 2015
Publication Date Jul 31, 2015
Deposit Date Mar 14, 2023
Publicly Available Date Mar 15, 2023
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 5
Article Number 12267
Keywords Biomimetics, Green photonics


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