You’ve probably heard of photovoltaic cells, but what about thermophotovoltaic cells? These cells utilize heat from infrared radiation to generate electricity, and they could provide energy more efficiently than the solar cells we currently use. Best of all, they continue working in the dark. Scientists at Australian National Universityand the University of California, Berkeleyrecently engineered a new metamaterial that could revolutionize thermophotovoltaic cells.
Lead researcher Sergey Kruk first speculated this particular metamaterial could provide great advantages for thermophotovoltaic cells, and teamed up with scientists at Berkeley because of their expertise in making metamaterials. The result is a metamaterial that could be used specifically as an emitter to vastly improve efficiency in thermophotovoltaic cells.
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Metamaterials are created to possess properties not present in nature. The researchers used gold, magnesium fluoride, and silicon nitride to create a material that “glows in an unusual way” when exposed to infrared radiation.
Kruk said, “Thermophotovoltaic cells have the potential to be much more efficient than solar cells. Our metamaterial overcomes several obstacles and could help unlock the potential of thermophotovoltaic cells.”
The extra cool aspect of thermophotovoltaic cells is that they don’t require direct sunlight, so they could generate power regardless of the time of day. Plus, the metamaterial that could be used in these cells is tiny: Kruk says over 12,000 of “building blocks” of the substance could cram onto a human hair cross-section.
These thermophotovoltaic cells could have exciting applications for the electric vehicle industry as well. When integrated into engines, they could recycle heat into power. “To fabricate this material the Berkeley team were operating at the cutting edge of technological possibilities,” said Kruk. Some are suggesting this new technology could drive the development of super efficient solar cells, forever altering the way we receive power.
Images via Stuart Hay for Australian National University and Nature Communications article “Magnetic hyperbolic optical metamaterials”