Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington, working alongside Louisiana Tech University assistant professor Long Que, have created a hybrid nanomaterial that converts both light and heat into electricity. Previously, certain nanomaterials could be used to convert light into electricity and others to convert thermal energy into electricity but there have not before been nanomaterials that could do both. By combining the electricity generated by light with some thermoelectricity, the hybrid nanomaterial could improve performance and efficiency over materials that only do one or the other. This development offers great potential for energy production and for the future of solar cell technology.
What the Technology Can Offer
UT Arlington associate physics professor Dr. Wei Chen states that “by increasing the number of the micro-devices on a chip, this technology might offer a new and efficient platform to complement or even replace current solar cell technology.” In addition to his work with hybrid nanomaterials, Chen is also receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to research the use of nanoparticle therapy in fighting breast and prostate cancers.
How They Did It
As for the hybrid nanomaterial technology, the new material was created by combining copper sulfide nanoparticles and single-walled carbon nanotubes (“SWNTs”) and then placed in a prototype thermoelectric generator. The researchers believe that with further developments, this could eventually produce milliwatts of power.
What are the Benefits
Already lab tests show that this new structure can increase light absorption by as much as 80 percent compared to SWNT thin-film structures. Additional benefits include that copper sulfide is much cheaper and more accessible than the metals used in similar hybrids.
Overall, the work of UT Arlington´s physics team shows significant promise for making a more efficient generator of electricity. Their progress continues to open new doors for the future of solar technology.