Scientists at Stanford have made a nature-inspired breakthrough that could cut the costs of solar energy technology.

Perovskite, a material as efficient as ‘conventional solar cells made of silicon’ in harnessing energy from the sun, is also much cheaper to produce. The problem is it is extremely fragile – but the Stanford scientists have developed a way of protecting it by mirroring the eye structure of an insect.

“We were inspired by the compound eye of the fly, which consists of hundreds of tiny segmented eyes. It has a beautiful honeycomb shape with built-in redundancy: If you lose one segment, hundreds of others will operate. Each segment is very fragile, but it’s shielded by a scaffold wall around it,” explained Reinhold Dauskardt, a professor of materials science and engineering and senior author of the study.

So the researchers built a honeycomb structure, made from low-cost epoxy resin, containing perovskite microcells. Tests confirmed the scaffolding had little negative impact on the cells productivity.

Dauskardt continued: “We got nearly the same power-conversion efficiencies out of each little perovskite cell that we would get from a planar solar cell. So we achieved a huge increase in fracture resistance with no penalty for efficiency.”

And the new technology showed it could compete with traditional rooftop panels by performing well in heats of 185 degrees Fahrenheit – with an 85% relative humidity – for six weeks.

“We are very excited about these results. It’s a new way of thinking about designing solar cells. These scaffold cells also look really cool, so there are some interesting aesthetic possibilities for real-world applications,” added Dauskardt.