Solar energy solutions inspired by nature

December 20, 2023

ADAPTATION is the new European-funded project, which involves collaborative efforts from Spain and Portugal. This Iberian consortium combines the scientific expertise from INL, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), University of Minho, and University of Vigo.

ADAPTATION draws inspiration from nature, more precisely from photosynthesis. The project aims to develop an innovative technology to absorb solar energy for electricity generation while incorporating self-cooling capabilities to mitigate energy losses.

Sara Núñez-Sánchez, researcher at the University of Minho and coordinator of the project, explains that “the survival of plants does not depend so much on the amount of energy they absorb but on how efficiently they transport that energy”. This mechanism is what the ADAPTATION project aims to mimic, creating a new concept for a solar energy conversion device.

The efficiency of devices that convert energy into electricity, such as solar panels, tends to decrease as heat accumulates. “The integration of photovoltaic or solar energy capture technologies is incompatible with technologies that allow efficient temperature management”, says Pedro David García, a researcher at ICMM-CSIC.

The Iberian team will focus on mimicking, at the molecular level, how natural photosynthetic tissues are organised to generate new materials at the nanoscale. “All the structures we are going to use will have an origin in nature, in one way or another – we will be inspired by natural systems and will use these natural nanostructures in the devices”, adds Martín López, NAPS research group leader at INL.

“We will use a quantum-mechanical approach to light –matter interactions taking place in these nanostructures as an  essential tool  for the understanding and mimicking of their long-evolution optimised energy harvesting features” say Mikhail Vasilevsky and Nuno Peres, members of the TQN research group at INL.

The Iberian consortium highlights that this innovative technology has the potential to address many current energy problems and several challenges of the 2030 agenda. “We will establish the foundations of a new technology that will have an impact beyond energy management technologies, such as how we transport information more sustainably, thus reducing our dependence on critical materials,” concludes Sara Núñez-Sánchez.

Representation of the new nature-inspired photonic material, image created using artificial intelligence.

The ADAPTATION project has received 3.6 million euros through the Pathfinder grants from the European Union, aimed at disruptive projects investigating and developing technological advances. Nine entities from five different countries will participate in its execution, with special prominence given to the Iberian Peninsula: the University of Minho (coordinator) and the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) from Portugal; CSIC, the University of Vigo, Avanzare Innovation Tecnologica SL, and Cooling Photonics from Spain; the University of Strasbourg (France), the University of Utrecht (Netherlands), and Sunplugged-solare Energiesysteme GMBH from Austria.