“Solar at night” technology can already generate electricity in the dark

No sun, no problem. UNSW researchers have shown that radiant infrared heat from the Earth can be used to generate solar electricity at night.


A strange nocturnal solar cell generates energy in a reverse process.

Groundbreaking research by a team at UNSW shows that the Earth’s radiant infrared heat can be used to generate electricity, even after the sun has set.

UNSW researchers have made a major breakthrough in renewable energy technology by generating electricity from so-called “night” solar power.

The team of the School of Photovoltaic Engineering and Renewable Energies electricity generated from heat emitted as infrared lightjust as the Earth cools by radiating into space at night.

To generate energy from the emission of infrared light, a semiconductor device called radiating diodecomposed of materials found in night vision goggles.

Even though the amount of power generated at present is very smallabout 100,000 times less than that provided by a solar panel, the researchers believe that the result may be improved in the future.

We have unequivocally demonstrated the electrical energy of a thermal radiation diode.

With thermal cameras you can see the amount of radiation at night, but only in the infrared and not in the visible wavelengths. What we have done is to manufacture a device capable of generating electrical energy from the emission of infrared thermal radiation.

Ned Ekins-Daukes, team leader.

Energy flow.

According to Professor Ekins-Daukes, the process continues to harness solar energy, which reaches Earth during the day as sunlight and warms the planet.

At night, this same energy radiates out into the vast, cold vacuum of space as infrared light, and the thermodiative diode has been shown to be able to generate electricity by harnessing this process.

Whenever there is a flow of energy, we can convert it between different forms.

Photovoltaics, the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity, is an artificial process that man has developed to convert solar energy into energy. In this sense, the process of thermal radiation is similar; we divert energy flowing in the infrared from a warm Earth to the cold universe.

In the same way that a solar cell can generate electricity by absorbing sunlight emitted by a very hot sun, the radiant diode generates electricity by emitting infrared light in a cooler environment. In both cases, it is the temperature difference that makes it possible to produce electricity.

Phoebe Pearce, co-author of the book.

The progress made by the UNSW team represents the confirmation of a process that has been theoretical until now and is the first step for the manufacture of specialized devicesand much more efficient, which could one day capture energy on a much larger scale.

Professor Ekins-Daukes likens the new research to the work of Bell Labs engineers who demonstrated the first practical silicon solar cell in 1954.

This first silicon solar cell was only about 2% efficient, but modern cells are now able to convert about 23% of sunlight into electricity.

Even if the commercialization of these solar cells does not take place in the near future, solar energy technology can be very effective: although the commercialization of these technologies is still a long way off, being at the beginning of an evolving idea is a very exciting experience. place for a researcher.

By leveraging our knowledge of solar cell design and optimization, and borrowing materials from the mid-infrared photodetector community, we hope to make rapid progress towards the dream of nighttime solar power.

Dr. Michael Nielsen, co-author of the study.

The research team believe the new technology could have a number of uses in the future by helping to generate electricity in ways that are currently not possible.

The research team now hopes industry leaders will recognize the potential of the new technology and support its development.

Going through unsw.edu.au

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