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In a world-first, Australian researchers have made a major breakthrough in solar technology by producing electricity when the sun isn't shining.
A group of UNSW researchers have done what previously seemed impossible, in capturing the sun’s energy at night by harnessing the Earth’s own infrared thermal radiation.
The team from the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering utilised a semiconductor device called a thermoradiative diode to generate the power.
The diode is made up of the same materials found in night-vision goggles.
Essentially, the team tapped into the energy that arrives from the sun during the day and warms up the Earth, with the Earth radiating that same energy back into space.
The results were published in ACS Photonics.
While the power generated currently is 100,000 times less than that supplied by a solar panel - it is a good indication of possibilities in the future.
Associate Professor Ned Ekins-Daukes, who led the study said in the study: “We have made an unambiguous demonstration of electrical power from a thermoradiative diode.
“Using thermal imaging cameras you can see how much radiation there is at night, but just in the infrared rather than the visible wavelengths.
"What we have done is make a device that can generate electrical power from the emission of infrared thermal radiation.”
While still in its early stages, future devices could be implemented to capture solar energy on a much larger scale, and more financially efficient as well.
In turn, this could lead to a much cheaper implementation of widespread solar polar use, and potentially even replace or work alongside battery storage.
Professor Ekins-Daukes told ABC News: "The question here for the thermoradiative diode is how can we get from this scientific demonstration, through to scaling the manufacturing to a level where we could get the cost down. And that really depends on how engaged industry can be.
"It will take some time … And I have to be honest, we need to find some new materials to achieve [widespread use]."
The team of researchers believe the confirmation of this new technology could also see the unconventional production of energy in the future in ways currently not possible.
One of those could be generating power from body heat - and in turn, powering bionic devices such as artificial hearts.
Featured Image Credit: Francisco Javier Ramos Rosellon / Alamy. UNSW.
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