Hybrid nanomaterial converts light and heat into electricity

A hybrid nanomaterial that can be used to convert both light and thermal energy into electrical current has been unveiled at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Professor Wei Chen (pictured) and graduate students Santana Bala Lakshmanan and Chang Yang created the material by synthesising a combination of copper sulfide nanoparticles and single-walled carbon nanotubes. The team used the nanomaterial to build a prototype thermoelectric generator which they believe could eventually produce several milliwatts of power. Paired with microchips, the technology could also be used in devices such as self powering sensors, low power electronic devices and implantable biomedical micro devices. "If we can convert both light and heat to electricity, the potential is huge for energy production," said Prof Chen. "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." In lab tests, the new thin film structure showed increases by as much at 80% in light absorption when compared to single walled nanotube thin film devices alone, making it a more efficient generator. In addition, the researchers found they could enhance the thermal and optical switching effects of the hybrid nanomaterial as much as ten times by using asymmetric illumination, rather than symmetric illumination. "Copper sulfide is also less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the noble metals used in similar hybrids," Chen noted. The findings have been reported in the journal Nanotechnology.