A new type of solar panel using human hair could provide the world with cheap, green electricity, believes its teenage inventor.
Milan Karki, 18, who comes from a village in rural Nepal, believes he has found the solution to the developing world’s energy needs.
The young inventor says hair is easy to use as a conductor in solar panels and could revolutionise renewable energy.
‘First I wanted to provide electricity for my home, then my village. Now I am thinking for the whole world,’ said Milan, who attends school in the capital, Kathmandu.
The hair replaces silicon, a pricey component typically used in solar panels, and means the panels can be produced at a low cost for those with no access to power, he explained.
In Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, many rural areas lack access to electricity and even in areas connected to power lines, users face shortages of up to 16 hours a day.
Milan and four classmates initially made the solar panel as an experiment but the teens are convinced it has wide applicability and commercial viability.
I’m trying to produce commercially and distribute to the districts. We’ve already sent a couple out to the districts to test for feasibility,’ he said.
The solar panel, which produces 9 V (18 W) of energy, costs around £23 to make from raw materials.
But if they were mass-produced, Milan says they could be sold for less than half that price, which could make them a quarter of the price of those already on the market.
Melanin, a pigment that gives hair its colour, is light sensitive and also acts as a type of conductor. Because hair is far cheaper than silicon the appliance is less costly.
The solar panel can charge a mobile phone or a pack of batteries capable of providing light all evening.
Milan began his quest to create electricity when he was a boy living in Khotang, a remote district of Nepal completely unconnected to electricity. According to him, villagers were skeptical of his invention at first.
‘They believe in superstitions, they don’t believe in science. But now they believe,’ he said.
Cost effective: The solar-hair panel is estimated to be four times cheaper than an industrial made solar panel of comparable capacity.
He first tried to use water currents hydro power on a small scale, but said the experiment became too expensive.
(image: A detailed shot shows the human hair used as an alternative to silicon)
‘I searched for new, other renewable, affordable sources. People in these places are living the life of the stone age even in the 21st century,’ he said. Milan, whose hero is the inventor Thomas Eddison, describes himself as lucky because his family could afford for him to receive a proper education while many other villagers are forced to work from an early age. Most of those from his village are illiterate. He was originally inspired after reading a book by physicist Stephen Hawking, which discussed ways of creating static energy from hair.
‘I realised that Melanin was one of the factors in conversion of energy,’ he said. Half a kilo of hair can be bought for only 16p in Nepal and lasts a few months, whereas a pack of batteries would cost 50p and last a few nights.
People can replace the hair easily themselves, says Milan, meaning his solar panels need little servicing. Three years after first coming up with the idea, Milan says the idea is more important than ever because of the crucial need for renewable energies in the face of finite power sources and global warming.
‘Slowly, natural resources are degrading so it is necessary to think about the future,” he said. ‘One day we will be in a great crisis regarding this fuel so it is a good thing to do today.
‘This is an easy solution for the crisis we are having today. We have begun the long walk to save the planet.’
Craig Hyatt calls this a hoax.
CaesarDia September 10, 2009 at 10:20 AM @craighyatt
If you had read and understood the abstract you would realise that the paper shows conductivities for *isolated* melanins (i.e. purified and not inside hair protein) of 10^-11 S/m (Siemens per metre). This is the inverse of the resistivity, i.e. it has a resistance of 10^11 Ohm-metres.
If you are incredibly generous and assume that the panel is pure melanin and that the paper has accurately calculated the electronic properties; if the panel has a cross-sectional area of 0.09m^2 and is 100um between contacts (i.e. a panel 30cm on a side and 1 hair thick with perfect electrical contacts), this would lead to an internal resistance for the panel of ~1 gigaohm.
For the panel to be putting out 18W at 9V, 2A of current is flowing. Since Power=Current*Current*Resistance, the power dissipated across the internal resistance is *4GW*.
My PhD is in Organic Materials for Photovoltaics
On Craig’s site http://sites.google.com/site/edwardcraighyatt/hairsolarpanelnepal he says,
“Conclusion: It is not possible to use human hair in any configuration to generate electrical energy when exposed to light.”