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Sci Adv. 2017 Oct 20;3(10):e1700232. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700232. eCollection 2017 Oct.

Bioinspired phase-separated disordered nanostructures for thin photovoltaic absorbers.

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Department of Medical Engineering, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), 1200 East California Boulevard, Mail Code 136-93, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.
Institute of Microstructure Technology, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Hermann-von-Helmholtz-Platz 1, 76344 Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany.
Light Technology Institute, KIT, Engesserstrasse 13, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany.
Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Caltech, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.
Institut für Energie- und Klimaforschung 5 (IEK 5)-Photovoltaik, Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, 52425 Jülich, Germany.


The wings of the black butterfly, Pachliopta aristolochiae, are covered by micro- and nanostructured scales that harvest sunlight over a wide spectral and angular range. Considering that these properties are particularly attractive for photovoltaic applications, we analyze the contribution of these micro- and nanostructures, focusing on the structural disorder observed in the wing scales. In addition to microspectroscopy experiments, we conduct three-dimensional optical simulations of the exact scale structure. On the basis of these results, we design nanostructured thin photovoltaic absorbers of disordered nanoholes, which combine efficient light in-coupling and light-trapping properties together with a high angular robustness. Finally, inspired by the phase separation mechanism of self-assembled biophotonic nanostructures, we fabricate these bioinspired absorbers using a scalable, self-assembly patterning technique based on the phase separation of binary polymer mixture. The nanopatterned absorbers achieve a relative integrated absorption increase of 90% at a normal incident angle of light to as high as 200% at large incident angles, demonstrating the potential of black butterfly structures for light-harvesting purposes in thin-film solar cells.

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