A New Breakthrough Could Make It Possible To Harvest Solar Power at Night

Researchers have created a device that is capable of turning infrared heat into electricity through the use of a power-generation device called a ‘thermo-radiative diode’.

Australian researchers have created a device that can produce power from heat radiation using a similar mechanism to night-vision goggles.

Following a significant advancement in thermal capture technology, the sun’s immense energy may soon be captured even in the dead of night. During the day, solar radiation greatly warms the earth’s crust, but when the sun sets, that heat is lost into the icy depths of space.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering have now successfully tested a device that can convert infrared heat into electrical power. The team, which included individuals from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, used a power-generation tool called a “thermo-radiative diode,” which is comparable to the technology found in night-vision goggles. The study was published in ACS Photonics on May 9th. 

Exciton Science Associate Investigator Nicholas Ekins-Daukes, the leader of the research team, said: “In the late 18th and early 19th century it was discovered that the efficiency of steam engines depended on the temperature difference across the engine, and the field of thermodynamics was born.

An infrared image of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Credit: UNSW Sydney

“The same principles apply to solar power – the sun provides the hot source and a relatively cool solar panel on the Earth’s surface provides a cold absorber. This allows electricity to be produced. However, when we think about the infrared emission from the Earth into outer space, it is now the Earth that is the comparatively warm body, with the vast void of space being extremely cold. ”

“By the same principles of thermodynamics, it is possible to generate electricity from this temperature difference too: the emission of infrared light into space.”

Norwegian researcher Rune Strandberg first explored the theoretical possibility of such a device, and researchers at Stanford University are investigating alternative approaches to capturing thermal energy at night.

The amount of energy produced through this new test is small (roughly equivalent to 0.001% of a solar cell), but the proof of concept is significant.

“We usually think of the emission of light as something that consumes power, but in the mid-infrared, where we are all glowing with radiant energy, we have shown that it is possible to extract electrical power,” Nicholas said.

“We do not yet have the miracle material that will make the thermoradiative diode an everyday reality, but we made a proof of principle and are eager to see how much we can improve on this result in the coming years.”

The team is now excited to move to the next research phase in creating and refining their own devices to harness the power of the night, and welcome potential industry partners.

Reference: “Thermoradiative Power Conversion from HgCdTe Photodiodes and Their Current-Voltage Characteristics” by Michael P. Nielsen, Andreas Pusch, Muhammad H. Sazzad, Phoebe M. Pearce, Peter J. Reece and Nicholas J. Ekins-Daukes, 9 May 2022, ACS Photonics.
DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.2c00223

EnergyNight VisionPopularSolarSolar CellsSolar PowerUniversity of New South Wales
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  • Earlier the Better

    Ocean has Water flow; Let Solar Panels flow from East to West (At times, Energy may have to be used to force them to follow Westwardly direction). As long as they follow the Sun above 100%, they should be able to drop and pick up batteries. Other nations will benefit from it also; Some deals can be made with them later on. So, East to West and West to East before flowing East to West all over again. Let it be a Continuous operation as Sun appears Everyday without fail.

    • Earlier the Better

      These Panels should always float..Not turn upside down. Those in the country nearby should go in a jet, snap the charged battery connection & attach a new one. Big ships can avoid them without fail. There must be an online watch of their position, enabling those in small boats avoid them approaching. This should occur far away from the beaches. Just like hurricanes travel, so should solar panels.

  • Sekar

    Interesting.

    Perpetual motion machine has always been fascinating. With sun supplying the energy this is possible.Energy source is required.

    The Suns light and heat and the reflected light in the entire spectrum of frequencies { including viable, infrared and ultraviolet} is energy , which can be captured and used , as we follow the Sun Cycle.

    Moonlight and starlight can also be sources once we figure out how to capture and use them.

    Views expressed are personal and not binding on anyone.

  • Richie

    The amount of available energy is laughably small, a few watts per square meter.

    But I suppose the military will find some use for this “breakthrough” technology.

  • Adrian Muir

    Reminds me of new solar type cell created a few years ago that works in the shade or at night, however instead of infra red, it converts cosmic rays into electricity. Perhaps the two concepts could be combined.