For decades, photovoltaic devices have generated electricity directly from sunlight. Thermoelectric devices generate electricity from heat energy. Both devices have found their way into various applications, from photovoltaic roof panels to thermoelectric energy recovery in vehicles.
Both methods of electrical generation are fairly inefficient, but now, by combining these two properties, researchers at University of Texas at Arlington [UTA] may have cracked the efficiency problem.
Long Que, assistant professor at Louisiana Tech University [LTU] and Wei Chen, associate physics professor at UTA, designed a hybrid nanomaterial device that is both thermoelectric and photovoltaic, which had never been possible in a single material.
The new material, a combination of copper sulfide and carbon nanotubes, reacts to both heat and light. The researchers expect the new material could be used produce milliwatts of power for micro-devices, such as self-powered sensors, low-power electronics, and even implantable self-powered biomedical devices.
The new copper sulfide / carbon nanotube thin-film structure showed an 80% increase in light absorption efficiency over carbon nanotubes alone.
“If we can convert both light and heat to electricity, the potential is huge for energy production,” Wei Chen said. “By increasing the number of the micro-devices on a chip, this technology might offer a new and efficient platform to complement or even replace current solar cell technology.”