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Posted on November 16, 2012

Hybrid nanomaterial converts light and thermal energy into electricity

A University of Texas at Arlington physics professor has helped create a hybrid nanomaterial that can be used to convert light and thermal energy into electrical current, surpassing earlier methods that used either light or thermal energy, but not both. Working with Louisiana Tech University assistant professor Long Que, UT Arlington associate physics professor Wei Chen and graduate students Santana Bala Lakshmanan and Chang Yang synthesized a combination of copper sulfide nanoparticles and single-walled carbon nanotubes.
The team used the nanomaterial to build a prototype thermoelectric generator that they hope can eventually produce milliwatts of power. Paired with microchips, the technology could be used in devices such as self-powering sensors, low-power electronic devices and implantable biomedical micro-devices, Chen said. "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."
In lab tests, the new thin-film structure showed increases by as much at 80 percent in light absorption when compared to single-walled nanotube thin-film devices alone, making it a more efficient generator. Copper sulfide is also less expensive and more environment-friendly than the noble metals used in similar hybrids.
In October, the journal Nanotechnology published a paper on the work called "Optical thermal response of single-walled carbon nanotube-copper sulfide nanoparticle hybrid nanomaterials." In it, researchers also found that 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. Coauthors on the Nanotechnology paper from Louisiana Tech include Yi-Hsuan Tseng, Yuan He and Que, all of the school's Institute for Micromanufacturing.
"Dr. Chen's research with nanomaterials is an important advancement with the potential for far-reaching applications," said Pamela Jansma, dean of the UT Arlington College of Science.
Source and top image of Wei Chen: University of Texas, Arlington