Nanotechnology employed to generate power from light and heat

16 November 2012

Posted by Satvir Bhullar

An innovative new nanomaterial has been developed by scientists in the US that is able to convert light and heat into energy.

Nanotechnology has been employed by a team from the University of Texas at Arlington to produce an electrical current from both thermal energy and light, surpassing previous efforts in this field.

The material is created using a combination of single-walled carbon nanotubes and copper sulfide nanoparticles and was turned into a prototype thermoelectric generator that the scientists claim could be used to manufacture self-powering sensors, implantable biomedical devices and low-power electronic devices in the future.

Wei Chen, a physics professor at the institution, stated that the nanomaterial is expected to be able to produce milliwatts of electricity in the future and "might offer a new and efficient platform to complement or even replace current solar cell technology".

The researchers suggest the breakthrough could provide a new power source in the future that is more efficient and cheaper than existing options and they wrote in the journal Nanotechnology that there is a wide range of potential applications for the development.

Another application of nanoscience to improve thermoelectrics has been unveiled by experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with heat found to move through materials called superlattices in a similar way to waves.

The discovery could have significant potential for the control of heat flow through nanostructures, according to the team, providing a means of harnessing temperature differences in order to generate electricity.

By producing more power more efficiently in this way, utilizing a process called coherent flow, they claim the flow of heat could be tailored in order to remove excess heat generated by electronic devices in a way that reduces damage to devices and boosts performance.

Commenting on the study, Chris Dames, University of California at Berkeley Acting Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, said: "Understanding and controlling the heat transfer in superlattices is very important for certain optoelectronic devices, and has the potential to impact thermoelectric energy conversion as well."

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