9/28/2011

13-Year-Old Makes Solar Power Breakthrough

After studying how trees branch in a very specific way, Aidan Dwyer created a solar cell tree that produces 20-50% more power than a uniform array of photovoltaic panels.  His impressive results show that using a specific formula for distributing solar cells can drastically improve energy generation.  The study earned Aiden a provisional U.S. patent, a rare find in the field of technology and a fantastic example of how biomimicry can drastically improve design.

Aidan measuring the spiral pattern


While taking a hike through trees last winter young Adrian took notice of patterns in the mangle of branches.  His studies into how they branch in very specific ways lead him to a central guiding formula, the Fibonacci sequence.  In the sequence, you take a number and add it to the number before it in the sequence like 1+1=2 then 2+1=3, 3+2=5, and eventually a very specific pattern emerges.  The pattern and its corresponding ratios are reflected in nature in many ways, and Aidan's observation of how trees branch according to the formula lead him to test the theory.



His first step was to measure tree branches by how often they branch and at what degree from each other.  To understand why they branch this way he built a small solar array using the Fibonacci formula, stepping cells at specific intervals and heights.  He then compared the energy output with identical cells set in a row.
 The spiral on trees showing the Fibonacci Sequence

 Aidan studied leaf arrngements

Diagram of tree model that Aidan made with his computer

Aidan's results:  The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model.  The tree design made 20% more electricity and collected 2 1/2 more hours of sunlight during the day.  But the most interesting results were in December, when the Sun was at its lowest point in the sky.  The tree design made 50% more electricity, and the collection time of sunlight was up to 50% longer.

 Aidan building his solar "tree" collector

 The flat panel collector

The two models collecting sunlight