Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors
Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > New Technique Could Harvest More of the Sun's Energy

An ultra-sensitive needle measures the voltage that is generated while the nanospheres are illuminated.
Credit: AMOLF/Tremani - Figure: Artist impression of the plasmo-electric effect.
An ultra-sensitive needle measures the voltage that is generated while the nanospheres are illuminated.

Credit: AMOLF/Tremani - Figure: Artist impression of the plasmo-electric effect.

Abstract:
As solar panels become less expensive and capable of generating more power, solar energy is becoming a more commercially viable alternative source of electricity. However, the photovoltaic cells now used to turn sunlight into electricity can only absorb and use a small fraction of that light, and that means a significant amount of solar energy goes untapped.

New Technique Could Harvest More of the Sun's Energy

Pasadena, CA | Posted on December 9th, 2014

A new technology created by researchers from Caltech, and described in a paper published online in the October 30 issue of Science Express, represents a first step toward harnessing that lost energy.

Sunlight is composed of many wavelengths of light. In a traditional solar panel, silicon atoms are struck by sunlight and the atoms' outermost electrons absorb energy from some of these wavelengths of sunlight, causing the electrons to get excited. Once the excited electrons absorb enough energy to jump free from the silicon atoms, they can flow independently through the material to produce electricity. This is called the photovoltaic effect—a phenomenon that takes place in a solar panel's photovoltaic cells.

Although silicon-based photovoltaic cells can absorb light wavelengths that fall in the visible spectrum—light that is visible to the human eye—longer wavelengths such as infrared light pass through the silicon. These wavelengths of light pass right through the silicon and never get converted to electricity—and in the case of infrared, they are normally lost as unwanted heat.

"The silicon absorbs only a certain fraction of the spectrum, and it's transparent to the rest. If I put a photovoltaic module on my roof, the silicon absorbs that portion of the spectrum, and some of that light gets converted into power. But the rest of it ends up just heating up my roof," says Harry A. Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science; director, Resnick Sustainability Institute, who led the study.

Now, Atwater and his colleagues have found a way to absorb and make use of these infrared waves with a structure composed not of silicon, but entirely of metal.

The new technique they've developed is based on a phenomenon observed in metallic structures known as plasmon resonance. Plasmons are coordinated waves, or ripples, of electrons that exist on the surfaces of metals at the point where the metal meets the air.

While the plasmon resonances of metals are predetermined in nature, Atwater and his colleagues found that those resonances are capable of being tuned to other wavelengths when the metals are made into tiny nanostructures in the lab.

"Normally in a metal like silver or copper or gold, the density of electrons in that metal is fixed; it's just a property of the material," Atwater says. "But in the lab, I can add electrons to the atoms of metal nanostructures and charge them up. And when I do that, the resonance frequency will change."

"We've demonstrated that these resonantly excited metal surfaces can produce a potential"—an effect very similar to rubbing a glass rod with a piece of fur: you deposit electrons on the glass rod. "You charge it up, or build up an electrostatic charge that can be discharged as a mild shock," he says. "So similarly, exciting these metal nanostructures near their resonance charges up those metal structures, producing an electrostatic potential that you can measure."

This electrostatic potential is a first step in the creation of electricity, Atwater says. "If we can develop a way to produce a steady-state current, this could potentially be a power source. He envisions a solar cell using the plasmoelectric effect someday being used in tandem with photovoltaic cells to harness both visible and infrared light for the creation of electricity.

Although such solar cells are still on the horizon, the new technique could even now be incorporated into new types of sensors that detect light based on the electrostatic potential.

"Like all such inventions or discoveries, the path of this technology is unpredictable," Atwater says. "But any time you can demonstrate a new effect to create a sensor for light, that finding has almost always yielded some kind of new product."

This work was published in a paper titled, "Plasmoelectric Potentials in Metal Nanostructures." Other coauthors include first author Matthew T. Sheldon, a former postdoctoral scholar at Caltech; Ana M. Brown, an applied physics graduate student at Caltech; and Jorik van de Groep and Albert Polman from the FOM Institute AMOLF in Amsterdam. The study was funded by the Department of Energy, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Written by Jessica Stoller-Conrad

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Deborah Williams-Hedges

626-395-3227

Copyright © California Institute of Technology

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related Links

Download article:

Related News Press

News and information

Neutrons unlock the secrets of limoncello May 21st, 2019

Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth May 17th, 2019

Manipulating atoms one at a time with an electron beam: New method could be useful for building quantum sensors and computers May 17th, 2019

New surface treatment could improve refrigeration efficiency: A slippery surface for liquids with very low surface tension promotes droplet formation, facilitating heat transfer May 17th, 2019

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth May 17th, 2019

Manipulating atoms one at a time with an electron beam: New method could be useful for building quantum sensors and computers May 17th, 2019

New way to beat the heat in electronics: Rice University lab's flexible insulator offers high strength and superior thermal conduction May 16th, 2019

New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries May 14th, 2019

Discoveries

Neutrons unlock the secrets of limoncello May 21st, 2019

Manipulating atoms one at a time with an electron beam: New method could be useful for building quantum sensors and computers May 17th, 2019

New surface treatment could improve refrigeration efficiency: A slippery surface for liquids with very low surface tension promotes droplet formation, facilitating heat transfer May 17th, 2019

Generating high-quality single photons for quantum computing: New dual-cavity design emits more single photons that can carry quantum information at room temperature May 17th, 2019

Materials/Metamaterials

ZEN gets $1m grant for graphene-enhanced concrete project May 12th, 2019

Computing faster with quasi-particles May 10th, 2019

Coal could yield treatment for traumatic injuries: Rice, Texas A&M, UTHealth scientists discover coal-derived ‘dots’ are effective antioxidant April 25th, 2019

Multistep self-assembly opens door to new reconfigurable materials April 19th, 2019

Announcements

Neutrons unlock the secrets of limoncello May 21st, 2019

Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth May 17th, 2019

Manipulating atoms one at a time with an electron beam: New method could be useful for building quantum sensors and computers May 17th, 2019

New surface treatment could improve refrigeration efficiency: A slippery surface for liquids with very low surface tension promotes droplet formation, facilitating heat transfer May 17th, 2019

Interviews/Book Reviews/Essays/Reports/Podcasts/Journals/White papers

Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth May 17th, 2019

Manipulating atoms one at a time with an electron beam: New method could be useful for building quantum sensors and computers May 17th, 2019

Generating high-quality single photons for quantum computing: New dual-cavity design emits more single photons that can carry quantum information at room temperature May 17th, 2019

New way to beat the heat in electronics: Rice University lab's flexible insulator offers high strength and superior thermal conduction May 16th, 2019

Energy

Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth May 17th, 2019

New surface treatment could improve refrigeration efficiency: A slippery surface for liquids with very low surface tension promotes droplet formation, facilitating heat transfer May 17th, 2019

Skoltech researchers developed new perovskite-inspired semiconductors for electronic devices May 13th, 2019

Exploring New Ways to Control Thermal Radiation April 29th, 2019

Research partnerships

Manipulating atoms one at a time with an electron beam: New method could be useful for building quantum sensors and computers May 17th, 2019

New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries May 14th, 2019

Sculpting Super-Fast Light Pulses: NIST Nanopillars Shape Light Precisely for Practical Applications May 3rd, 2019

Exploring New Ways to Control Thermal Radiation April 29th, 2019

Solar/Photovoltaic

Skoltech researchers developed new perovskite-inspired semiconductors for electronic devices May 13th, 2019

Exploring New Ways to Control Thermal Radiation April 29th, 2019

Multistep self-assembly opens door to new reconfigurable materials April 19th, 2019

Mystery of negative capacitance in perovskite solar cells solved April 5th, 2019

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project