Thermally Enhanced Photoemission for Solar Energy Harvesting

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Researchers at Stanford University have developed a novel solar energy conversion process that simultaneously combines the light and heat of solar radiation to generate electricity. The process called photon enhanced thermionic emission (PETE) promises to surpass the efficiency of existing photovoltaic and thermal conversion technologies and could reduce the costs of solar energy production enough for it to compete with oil as an energy source.Unlike photovoltaic technology currently available PETE excels at higher temperatures and would make an ideal device for use in solar concentrators such as parabolic dishes. Coupled with a thermal conversion mechanism the waste heat generated from PETE in a solar concentrator provides an additional opportunity for generating electricity; it is estimated that with optimized materials and processes PETE can get to 50 percent efficiency or more under solar concentration but if combined with a thermal conversion cycle could reach 55 or even 60 percent – almost triple the efficiency of existing systems. Further efficiency improvements may be possible through new materials nanostructures and plasmonic processes that can increase light absorption carrier concentrations and emission probability. Collaboration Interest: The innovators would be interested in working with companies to determine how the PETE system may be tailored to match their specific designs.


1) Increased solar conversion efficiency 2) Straightforward design 3) Materials to build the device are inexpensive and easily available 4) High solar concentrations could reduce material costs by scaling the device area 5) Excels at higher temperatures

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