While the world around us is welcoming newer trends in solar energy, a team of MIT scientists has built a device that uses inventive engineering and advances in materials science to capture far more of the sun’s energy. The device first turns sunlight into heat and then converts it back into light. While researchers have for years been exploring solar thermophotovoltaics, the scientists at MIT are the first ones to create a device that absorbs more energy than its photovoltaic cell alone, demonstrating that the approach could dramatically increase efficiency, says MIT Technology Review.
Although presently operating at only 6.8 percent efficiency, with enhancements, it has the potential to be twice as efficient as conventional photovoltaics.
Most of the standard solar cells only convert 32 percent of solar energy into electricity. The MIT scientists have developed something called an absorber-emitter which acts as a light funnel above the solar cells. The absorbing layer is built from solid black carbon nanotubes that convert solar energy into heat. That energy is radiated back as light when the temperature reaches 1,000°C.
Though it has been much appreciated, the device has drawbacks, like the relatively high cost of certain components and the fact that it works only in a vacuum, which the team is working to fix.
The report adds,
The researchers are also exploring ways to take advantage of another strength of solar thermophotovoltaics. Because heat is easier to store than electricity, it should be possible to divert excess amounts generated by the device to a thermal storage system, which could then be used to produce electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. If the researchers can incorporate a storage device and ratchet up efficiency levels, the system could one day deliver clean, cheap — and continuous — solar power.