A team of engineers worked in collaboration with paper artist Matthew Shlian, who is a lecturer in the U-M School of Art and Design, to develop the design.

They have developed an array of small solar cells capable of tilting within a larger panel, unlike conventional, motorized trackers which are too heavy and bulky for pitched rooftops and vehicle surfaces.

A doctoral student in materials science and engineering Aaron Lamoureux said: "The design takes what a large tracking solar panel does and condenses it into something that is essentially flat.

These new cells are designed to maintain their surfaces perpendicular to the sun’s rays in order to capture up to 40% more energy than conventional cells.

University of Michigan materials science and engineering associate professor Max Shtein said: "The beauty of our design is, from the standpoint of the person who’s putting this panel up, nothing would really change.

"But inside, it would be doing something remarkable on a tiny scale: the solar cell would split into tiny segments that would follow the position of the sun in unison."

The university is considering other options to improve the design with the very best solar-tracking as these new solar cells would be very long and narrow to fit into the chambers, which are used to develop the prototypes on campus.

The study under title, ‘Dynamic kirigami structures for integrated solar tracking’, secured funding from the National Science Foundation and NanoFlex Power.

The university is seeking potential partners to help in commercialization of the technology.

Image: New lightweight solar cells can track 40% more sun energy than conventional cells. Photo: courtesy of Aaron Lamoureux/ University of Michigan Regents.