New Nanomaterial Produces Electricity from Both Heat and Light

Advances in solar technology are typically gains in efficiency or better designs for either solar thermal or photovoltaic devices. Occasionally though, researchers focus on combining technologies to create an even better one, like tandem solar cells that also produce hydrogen, or in this case, a new nanomaterial that can harness both thermal energy and light into electricity at the same time.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington created this new material by synthesizing copper sulfide nanoparticles with single-walled carbon nanotubes. The outcome is a technology that could be used in self-powered sensors, low-power electronics and even micro-sized implantable biomedical devices.

Associate physics professor Wei Chen believes this material could be a game changer. “If we can convert both light and heat to electricity, the potential is huge for energy production,” 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.”

Lab tests of the hybrid material showed increases in light absorption of 80 percent over a device made up of just single-walled carbon nanotubes. Plus, the copper sulfide is less expensive and more environmentally-friendly than the noble metals often used in hybrid devices like this.

Chen is applying his nanoparticle research to more than just electricity generation. He's receiving funding for work on nanotechnology therapies for cancer and for radiation detection.

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