Cool "solar” cells

This is interesting but I’m not sure I see a very big market for this:

New Kind of ‘Solar’ Cell Shows We Can Generate Electricity Even at Night

Conventional solar technology soaks up rays of incoming sunlight to bump out a voltage. Strange as it seems, some materials are capable of running in reverse, producing power as they radiate heat back into the cold night sky.

So far, the prototype only generates a small amount of power, and is probably unlikely to become a competitive source of renewable power on its own – but coupled with existing photovoltaics technology, it could harness the small amount of energy provided by solar cells cooling after a long, hot day’s work.

I could see potential in places where your conventional resources are scarce but have lots of open sky and very little or no sun. Winter in the extreme latitudes would be an example.Perhaps in some deep space applications. Waste heat (even inadvertent heat losses through a roof or walls) or geothermal sources could perhaps provide enough electricity to run an instrument package or something.


9 thoughts on “Cool "solar” cells

  1. Mildly interesting, but is it not part of our search for low carbon energy from the magic of tech with diminishing returns? It sounds like it goes into the same bucket as Sterling Engines.

    From a practical perspective, it is still hard to beat the energy density of burning carbon (nuclear excepted) which was discovered in the mists of time.

    • Exactly Chet. Glad we got that out of the way. Now can they get back to what we know works. And work on efficiency?
      It’s truly amazing what humans can do once they get brainwashed passed the carbon cycle of nature.
      They can waste more time and money than one could ever imagine. On the most ignorant of ideas.

  2. How is this different then the gizmos (I too lazy to look up the name of the technology) which takes power in to remove heat but can also be given heat to make electricity?

    I’ve got a couple of them sitting on our wood stove. When the stove is producing heat the fans power up and move air. Not very powerful, but it makes a difference and no external electricity required.

    • You are probably thinking of a thermopile.

      The gizmo described in the article does not require a cold sink (versus heat source) in physical contact. It, literally, can be in a vacuum, radiate heat away into empty space, and generate electricity in the process.

    • Thermoelectric cooler/generator, using the Peltier effect? I’ve played with them just a little, and still have one on a shelf in my EE lab. Cooling efficiency isn’t good (nowhere near that of a good heat pump), and I couldn’t find a practical application for the one I have. I’d hoped to use it to cool a UHF receive preamplifier for lower noise, but the waste heat from the cooler was enough that it would have required a substantial heat sink for the “cold” side not to be *above* ambient. Certainly they can be made to work (I’ve seen it firsthand), but they do require some intelligent design. I have no firsthand knowledge of their use in electric power generation, but their efficiency is terrible, with lack of moving parts being their primary benefit over heat engines.

      • Yes! Peltier effect. The design is pretty cool. They use a piece of extruded aluminum. The base absorbs heat directly from the stove and converts some of it to electricity. The electricity powers a fan which then sucks air through the top part of the extrusion and blows the warm air out into the room.

        Thus the cold side is kept below ambient which allows the thing to work.

        • The version that generates current is called the Seeberg Effect.
          Peltier was the one that could heat or cool when it had current applied to the substrate. I worked on a diode laser powered crystal laser back in the early 90’s used for communication systems that had this as part of the laser mount. Temperature control was used as part of the laser frequency tuning. Used for cable tv and telephone systems. It could push a signal at least 40 kilometers over fibre without signal boosters.

  3. Cost vs benefit. Odds are such a thing would not produce enough power to justify the cost of creating them.

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