BY LOUIS BERGERON
Stanford engineers have figured out how to simultaneously use the light and heat of the sun to generate electricity in a way that could make solar power production more than twice as efficient as existing methods and potentially cheap enough to compete with oil.
Unlike photovoltaic technology currently used in solar panels – which becomes less efficient as the temperature rises – the new process excels at higher temperatures.
Called "photon enhanced thermionic emission," or PETE, the process promises to surpass the efficiency of existing photovoltaic and thermal conversion technologies.
"This is really a conceptual breakthrough, a new energy conversion process, not just a new material or a slightly different tweak," said Nick Melosh, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research group. "It is actually something fundamentally different about how you can harvest energy."
And the materials needed to build a device to make the process work are cheap and easily available, meaning the power that comes from it will be affordable.
Melosh is senior author of a paper describing the tests the researchers conducted. It was published online Aug. 1 in Nature Materials.
"Just demonstrating that the process worked was a big deal," Melosh said. "And we showed this physical mechanism does exist; it works as advertised." …
"What we've demonstrated is a new physical process that is not based on standard photovoltaic mechanisms, but can give you a photovoltaic-like response at very high temperatures," Melosh said. "In fact, it works better at higher temperatures. The higher the better." …