Rather than let all that heat get wasted, a new thermophotovoltaic design is said to be capable of capturing it at a record-high 32 percent efficiency rate. And perhaps the best part is that devices bearing this design are compact and cheaper than existing batteries.
"Thermophotovoltaic systems use an energy source like concentrated sunlight or a stream of hot gas to heat a thermal material, which in turn emits low-energy infrared radiation," reports c&en.
"A specially engineered photovoltaic cell captures that radiation and converts it to electricity."
Up until now, thermophotovoltaic technology has been too expensive and not efficient enough to be worthwhile for the average user. Expensive materials coupled with poor designs have made thermophotovoltaic technology a no-go for most applications.
All of that is changing, however, thanks to a new thermophotovoltaic technological approach that contains a mirror-like metal layer on their back surface to reflect low-energy light, such as from infrared radiation, back to emitters for reuse. (Related: Check out the Health Ranger's latest article about a new cold fusion energy breakthrough that could similarly revolutionize the way we obtain and use energy)
Researchers from the University of Michigan, led by chemical engineer Andrej Lenert and electrical engineer Stephen Forrest, came up with a new cell design that reflects up to 99 percent of low-energy light back to the emitter. This is significantly higher than older technologies that only reflected back about five percent of the light.
"They did this by adding an air layer between the semiconductor and the metal," c&en explains. "Too thick a layer adds electrical resistance, so they had to get it just right: 600 nm."
"The team made thermophotovoltaic devices with and without the air layer. Adding the air layer increased the heat-to-electricity conversion efficiency from 24% to 32%. This simple scheme improves efficiency."
According to Lenert, the biggest problem with thermophotovoltaic technology up until now has been extremely poor efficiency. The new technology captures the vast majority of heat, which he says "really paves the way for very high efficiency."
In the near future, adds Alejandro Datas of the Polytechnic University of Madrid's Institute of Solar Energy, devices with the ability of more than 40 percent efficiency could be made available to the public.
"This increase would bring the efficiency of thermophotovoltaics close to that of today's most efficient heat engines, 'but with the important difference that thermophotovoltaics can be made simple and small,'" c&en reports, citing Datas.
"Such devices could lead to compact energy-storage systems that use surplus renewable power to produce heat that is stored in materials such as molten salt. That heat could then be used to produce thermophotovoltaic electricity on demand. 'Because heat can be stored, thermophotovoltaics have a remarkable role to play in solving the energy storage challenge,' Datas says."
Having the ability to produce theoretically unlimited energy on demand using heat that is already emanating constantly from both natural and existing sources truly is a game changer, assuming the new technology can be scaled and commercialized to the degree it would need to be in order to work.
This, like the cold fusion technology the Health Ranger reported on, will not be replacing fossil fuels any time soon. It could, however, make energy cheaper and more widely available as a supplement to what currently exists on the energy market.
The latest news about new energy breakthrough technologies can be found at NewEnergyReport.com.