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Micro-Engineered Solar Harvester For Enhanced Energy Conversion

Researchers have developed a solar thermal harvester with enhanced energy conversion capabilities using revolutionary self assembling nanoparticles.

Solar-thermal technology has potential as an environmentally friendly energy source to address the fossil fuel crisis. However, current solar energy harvesters have limitations in scalability and flexibility. They rely on micro or nanoengineering which lacks scalability and flexibility, and will require a novel strategy for high-performance solar light capture while simultaneously simplifying fabrication and reducing costs.

These images show the device’s solar-thermal conversion (left) and solar thermoelectric harvesting (right). Credit: Zifu Xu

To address these challenges, researchers from Harbin University, Zhejiang University, Changchun Institute of Optics, and the National University of Singapore have designed a new solar harvester with enhanced energy conversion capabilities. The new design aims to simplify fabrication and reduce costs while improving performance. The device uses a quasiperiodic nanoscale pattern – meaning most of it is an alternating and consistent pattern, while the remaining portion contains random defects (unlike a nanofabricated structure) that do not affect its performance.

A good solar-thermal harvester should be able to absorb the wave and get hot, thereby converting solar energy into thermal energy. The process requires a high absorbance (100% is perfect), and a solar harvester should also suppress its thermal radiation to preserve the thermal energy, which requires a low thermal emissivity (zero means no radiation). Therefore a harvester is usually a system with a periodic nanophotonic structure. But the flexibility and scalability of these modules can be limited due to the rigidity of the pattern and high fabrication costs.

The team built a flexible planar solar thermoelectric harvester, which reached a significant sustaining voltage of over 20 millivolts per square centimeter. They expect it to power 20 light-emitting diodes per square meter of solar irradiation. The fabrication process makes use of self-assembling nanoparticles, which form an organized material structure based on their interactions with nearby particles without any external instructions. Thermal energy is harvested by the device and transformed into electricity using thermoelectric materials. This strategy can serve low-power density applications for more flexible and scalable engineering of solar energy harvesting.

Reference: “Scalable selective absorber with quasi-periodic nanostructure for low-grade solar energy harvesting” by Zifu Xu, Ying Li, Gang Gao, Fei Xie, Ran Ju, Shimin Yu, Kaipeng Liu, Jiaxin Li, Wuyi Wang, Wei Li, Tianlong Li and Cheng-Wei Qiu, 21 February 2023, APL Photonics.
DOI: 10.1063/5.0135193

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