The team used a thermoradiative cell that generates power by radiating heat to its surroundings. This cell pointed at the night sky would emit infrared light because it is warmer than outer space, at the same time generating around a quarter of the power a conventional solar panel can generate in daytime, says Jeremy Munday, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC Davis in California.
“We were thinking, what if we took one of these devices and put it in a warm area and pointed it at the sky,” said Munday. “A regular solar cell generates power by absorbing sunlight, which causes a voltage to appear across the device and for current to flow. In these new devices, light is instead emitted and the current and voltage go in the opposite direction, but you still generate power,” said Munday. “You have to use different materials, but the physics is the same.”
The device would work during the day as well, either by blocking direct sunlight or pointing it away from the sun, and so could potentially operate around the clock.
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