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Home > News > A New Way to Use the Sun's Energy

August 11th, 2010

A New Way to Use the Sun's Energy

Abstract:
A new type of device that uses both heat and light from the sun should be more efficient than conventional solar cells, which convert only the light into electricity.

The device relies on a physical principle discovered and demonstrated by researchers at Stanford University. In their prototype, the energy in sunlight excites electrons in an electrode, and heat from the sun coaxes the excited electrons to jump across a vacuum into another electrode, generating an electrical current. The device could be designed to send waste heat to a steam engine and convert 50 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity--a huge improvement over conventional solar cells.

The breakthrough came when the Stanford researchers realized that the light in solar radiation could enhance energy conversion in a different type of device, called a thermionic energy converter, that's conventionally driven solely by heat. Thermionic converters consist of two electrodes separated by a small space. When the positive electrode, or cathode, is heated, electrons in the cathode get excited and jump across to the negative electrode, or anode, driving a current through an external circuit.

Source:
technologyreview.com

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