Generating Light from Darkness

A new breakthrough in clean energy, however, could change everything. A new “anti-solar panel” could be able to bridge the gap left by solar energy, collecting energy from the night sky. The thermoelectric generator-based device, developed by a team of researchers at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, harnesses the variance in temperature between Earth and outer space, by using “a passive cooling mechanism known as radiative sky cooling to maintain the cold side of a thermoelectric generator several degrees below ambient” according to the researchers study, published in the scientific journal Joule.

Beyond lighting, a broad range of low-power off-grid sensors could also benefit from a modular power generation source at night.

Thermodynamically, for any energy conversion process to produce useful work, for example, electricity, there must be a hot source and a cold sink. Most renewable approaches to electricity generation, including photovoltaics and solar thermal systems, rely on using the Sun as the hot source and the ambient surroundings of Earth as a cold sink. At night, however, no such ubiquitous and easily accessible hot source exists to drive a heat engine. On the other hand, there does exist a ubiquitous cold sink that has to-date been largely ignored: the cold of outer space.

Using the ambient air surrounding Earth’s surface instead as the heat source and space as the cold sink, then, would allow one to drive a new kind of night-time heat engine and generate electricity at night.

Remarkably, accessing the coldness of space is indeed possible through radiative heat transfer between a sky-facing surface and outer space. A significant fraction of thermal radiation from a sky-facing surface can pass through the atmosphere and reach outer space, enabling passive radiative cooling of the surface to well below the ambient air temperature. Early work on radiative cooling focused on evaluating materials for their ability to cool passively at night.

Source / More : Joule


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