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New Solar Chip Converts Both Light and Heat

A new and improved version of a solar semiconductor chip developed at the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) converts both light and heat into electricity, and is claimed to be 100 times more efficient than the previous iteration.

The solar device, based on the photon-enhanced thermionic emission (PETE) process, can use the entire spectrum of sunlight for energy production, including those wavelengths that generate heat (which are usually considered ‘waste’ heat)

Current photovoltaic technology uses only a small portion of the spectrum of sunlight that hits the cells, and they get less efficient at higher temperatures. The new device actually gains efficiency as its temperature rises, which may make it desirable for concentrated solar installations, where it could boost the output up to 50%.

“When placed where the sunlight is focused, our PETE chips produce electricity directly; and the hotter it is, the more electricity it will make.” – Nicholas Melosh, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford

The new and improved PETE chip uses two semiconductor layers, with one being optimized to absorb sunlight and create free electrons, and the other layer, coated in cesium oxide, used to emit the electrons from the device as electricity. The device has a current efficiency of just 2% (which is up considerably from the last version, which was rated at just a few hundredths of a percent efficiency), but researchers say they expect to boost that by a factor of 20 in the near future.

The results of the research are published in Nature Communications: Photon-enhanced thermionic emission from heterostructures with low interface recombination

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