solar cells

Butterflies are beautiful, fragile, natural, and apparently solar powered.

Research suggests that certain scales on butterfly wings are nanobiologically-tuned to absorb heat from sunlight, enabling the insect to survive in colder or higher-altitudes than normal. Now some scientists offer ecologists a nasty choice: you can have higher-efficiency solar cells but we have to burn butterfly wings

That isn't a Disney-villain plot. Shanghai scientists made cells mimicking the buttery scales, but this is less "chameleon look at them and be like them" mimic, more "horror movie murderer kill them and steal their skin" mimic. Specifically, the wings have to be soaked in chemicals and burned away in an oven at five hundred degrees Celsius. This leaves a titanium-dioxide "butterfly microstructure photo-anode." We lack the nanotech to rebuild the unique cross-ribbed quasi-honeycomb structure, but it turns out that even in making molecular-scale modified materials mankind's oldest strategy still works: "set fire to something."

The researchers claim that the resulting films have a higher absorption ability than any other type of Grätzel cell, and Grätzel cells are already the highest-efficiency and among the cheapest models of cell available. The paper also says that the biomimicking technique is economically scaleable to high-volume production, so we can only hope they've got some kind of middle step between "kill thing" and "cheap electricity." To prevent environmentalists' heads from exploding if nothing else.

Research paper