Melbourne, Australia – The sun always ends up going down on solar power, right? Not necessarily, according to a stunning new research project. Recently developed technology similar to night vision goggles may have just made solar power at night a real possibility.
Scientists from the ARC Center of Excellence in Excitation Science and the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney) report a major milestone in thermal capture technology. They developed a device capable of generating electricity from thermal radiation.
The earth’s crust absorbs heat from solar radiation when the sun’s rays shine on it, but when night falls, all that potentially useful solar energy disappears into the vastness of space. Now, the study authors have successfully tested a new device that takes infrared heat and converts it into electrical energy.
During development, the team used an energy-generating device called a “thermo-radiative diode”, which is quite similar to technology found in night vision goggles.
“In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was discovered that the efficiency of steam engines depended on the temperature difference across the engine, and the field of thermodynamics was born,” said the associate researcher. of Exciton Science, Nicholas Ekins-Daukes, in a media. Release. “The same principles apply to solar power – the sun provides the hot source and a relatively cool solar panel on the Earth’s surface provides a cold absorber. This makes it possible to produce electricity.
“However, when we think of Earth’s infrared emission in outer space, it is now Earth that is the relatively hot body, with the vast vacuum of space being extremely cold,” he continues. . “By the same principles of thermodynamics, it is also possible to generate electricity from this temperature difference: the emission of infrared light into space.”
What power can scientists generate?
Rune Strandberg, a Norwegian scientist, was the first researcher to consider the theoretical possibility of such a device. Today, scientists at Stanford University are conducting their own research into the potential possibilities of harnessing thermal energy at night.
To be clear, the successful test set up by the team produced only a very small amount of power (about 0.001% of a solar cell). At this early stage, however, all that really matters is that the device works.
“We usually think of light emission as something that consumes energy, but in the mid-infrared, where we all glow with radiant energy, we have shown that it is possible to extract light. electrical energy”, concludes Nicholas. “We don’t yet have the miracle material that will make the thermoradiative diode an everyday reality, but we’ve done a proof-of-principle and are excited to see how much we can improve on that outcome in the years to come.”
The study is published in the journal ACS Photonics.