Nav: Home

Device generates light from the cold night sky

September 12, 2019

An inexpensive thermoelectric device harnesses the cold of space without active heat input, generating electricity that powers an LED at night, researchers report September 12 in the journal Joule.

"Remarkably, the device is able to generate electricity at night, when solar cells don't work," says lead author Aaswath Raman (@aaraman), an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Beyond lighting, we believe this could be a broadly enabling approach to power generation suitable for remote locations, and anywhere where power generation at night is needed."

While solar cells are an efficient source of renewable energy during the day, there is currently no similar renewable approach to generating power at night. Solar lights can be outfitted with batteries to store energy produced in daylight hours for night-time use, but the addition drives up costs.

The device developed by Raman and Stanford University scientists Wei Li and Shanhui Fan sidesteps the limitations of solar power by taking advantage of radiative cooling, in which a sky-facing surface passes its heat to the atmosphere as thermal radiation, losing some heat to space and reaching a cooler temperature than the surrounding air. This phenomenon explains how frost forms on grass during above-freezing nights, and the same principle can be used to generate electricity, harnessing temperature differences to produce renewable electricity at night, when lighting demand peaks.

Raman and colleagues tested their low-cost thermoelectric generator on a rooftop in Stanford, California, under a clear December sky. The device, which consists of a polystyrene enclosure covered in aluminized mylar to minimize thermal radiation and protected by an infrared-transparent wind cover, sat on a table one meter above roof level, drawing heat from the surrounding air and releasing it into the night sky through a simple black emitter. When the thermoelectric module was connected to a voltage boost convertor and a white LED, the researchers observed that it passively powered the light. They further measured its power output over six hours, finding that it generated as much as 25 milliwatts of energy per square meter.

Since the radiative cooler consists of a simple aluminum disk coated in paint, and all other components can be purchased off the shelf, Raman and the team believe the device can be easily scaled for practical use. The amount of electricity it generates per unit area remains relatively small, limiting its widespread applications for now, but the researchers predict it can be made twenty times more powerful with improved engineering--such as by suppressing heat gain in the radiative cooling component to increase heat-exchange efficiency--and operation in a hotter, drier climate.

"Our work highlights the many remaining opportunities for energy by taking advantage of the cold of outer space as a renewable energy resource," says Raman. "We think this forms the basis of a complementary technology to solar. While the power output will always be substantially lower, it can operate at hours when solar cells cannot."
-end-
This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as by the Mellon Family Foundation.

Joule, Raman et al.: "Generating Light from Darkness" https://www.cell.com/joule/fulltext/S2542-4351(19)30412-X

Joule (@Joule_CP) published monthly by Cell Press, is a new home for outstanding and insightful research, analysis and ideas addressing the need for more sustainable energy. A sister journal to Cell, Joule spans all scales of energy research, from fundamental laboratory research into energy conversion and storage up to impactful analysis at the global level. Visit: http://www.cell.com/joule. To receive Cell Press media alerts, contact press@cell.com.

Cell Press

Related Solar Cells Articles:

Perovskite solar cells get an upgrade
Rice University materials scientists find inorganic compounds quench defects in perovskite-based solar cells and expand their tolerance of light, humidity and heat.
Can solar technology kill cancer cells?
Michigan State University scientists have revealed a new way to detect and attack cancer cells using technology traditionally reserved for solar power.
Solar cells with new interfaces
Scientists from NUST MISIS (Russia) and University of Rome Tor Vergata found out that a microscopic quantity of two-dimensional titanium carbide called MXene significantly improves collection of electrical charges in a perovskite solar cell, increasing the final efficiency above 20%.
Welcome indoors, solar cells
Swedish and Chinese scientists have developed organic solar cells optimised to convert ambient indoor light to electricity.
Mapping the energetic landscape of solar cells
A new spectroscopic method now makes it possible to measure and visualize the energetic landscape inside solar cells based on organic materials.
Solar energy becomes biofuel without solar cells
Soon we will be able to replace fossil fuels with a carbon-neutral product created from solar energy, carbon dioxide and water.
A good first step toward nontoxic solar cells
A team of engineers at Washington University in St. Louis has found what they believe is a more stable, less toxic semiconductor for solar applications, using a novel double mineral discovered through data analytics and quantum-mechanical calculations.
Organic solar cells will last 10 years in space
Scientists from the Skoltech Center for Energy Science and Technology, the Institute for Problems of Chemical Physics of RAS, and the Department of Chemistry of MSU presented solar cells based on conjugated polymers and fullerene derivatives, that demonstrated record-high radiation stability and withstand gamma radiation of >6,000 Gy raising hopes for their stable operation on the near-earth orbit during 10 years or even longer.
Next-gen solar cells spin in new direction
A nanomaterial made from phosphorus, known as phosphorene, is shaping up as a key ingredient for more sustainable and efficient next-generation perovskite solar cells.
Caffeine gives solar cells an energy boost
Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Solargiga Energy in China have discovered that caffeine can help make a promising alternative to traditional solar cells more efficient at converting light to electricity.
More Solar Cells News and Solar Cells Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Accessing Better Health
Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#544 Prosperity Without Growth
The societies we live in are organised around growth, objects, and driving forward a constantly expanding economy as benchmarks of success and prosperity. But this growing consumption at all costs is at odds with our understanding of what our planet can support. How do we lower the environmental impact of economic activity? How do we redefine success and prosperity separate from GDP, which politicians and governments have focused on for decades? We speak with ecological economist Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Propserity, and author of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab