JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Researchers have devised an inexpensive way to produce plastic sheets containing billions of nanoantennas that collect heat energy generated by the sun and other sources. The technology, developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, is the first step toward a solar energy collector that could be mass-produced on flexible materials.
While methods to convert the energy into usable electricity still need to be developed, the sheets could one day be manufactured as lightweight "skins" that power everything from hybrid cars to iPods with higher efficiency than traditional solar cells, say the researchers, who report their findings Aug. 13 at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2008 2nd International Conference on Energy Sustainability in Jacksonville, Fla. The nanoantennas also have the potential to act as cooling devices that draw waste heat from buildings or electronics without using electricity.
The nanoantennas target mid-infrared rays, which the Earth continuously radiates as heat after absorbing energy from the sun during the day. In contrast, traditional solar cells can only use visible light, rendering them idle after dark. Infrared radiation is an especially rich energy source because it also is generated by industrial processes such as coal-fired plants.
"Every process in our industrial world creates waste heat," says INL physicist Steven Novack. "It's energy that we just throw away." Novack led the research team, which included INL engineer Dale Kotter, W. Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum, Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) and Patrick Pinhero, now at the University of Missouri.
The nanoantennas are tiny gold squares or spirals set in a specially treated form of polyethylene, a material used in plastic bags. While others have successfully invented antennas that collect energy from lower-frequency regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as microwaves, infrared rays have
|Contact: Roberta Kwok|
DOE/Idaho National Laboratory