Nano-antenna photovoltaics research underway at University of Missouri

University of Missouri engineer Patrick Pinhero and his team developed a heat-to-electricity conversion method, called nantenna, using nano-antennae over a thin, moldable sheet. The flexible solar sheet captures more than 90% of available light, and MicroContinuum Inc. has signed on to bring it from lab to fab.

May 17, 2011 — Earlier this month, we reported that Rice University researchers were combining nano-antenna optics with semiconducting materials to capture more solar energy in photovoltaic systems. University of Missouri engineer Patrick Pinhero also developed a heat-to-electricity conversion method, called nantenna, using nano-antennae over a thin, moldable sheet. The flexible solar sheet captures more than 90% of available light.

Pinhero (an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department), Idaho National Laboratory staff, and Garrett Moddel (electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado) developed a way to extract electricity from heat and sunlight using special high-speed electrical circuitry.

The device his team has developed currently harvests heat from industrial processes and converts it into usable electricity.

As part of a rollout plan, the team is securing funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE) and private investors. The second phase features an energy-harvesting device for existing industrial infrastructure, including heat-process factories and solar farms. The team partners with Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum, Inc., of Cambridge, MA, to immediately port laboratory bench-scale technologies into manufacturable devices that can be inexpensively mass-produced.

Within five years, the research team believes they will have a product that complements conventional PV solar panels. Because it’s a flexible film, the product could be incorporated into roof shingle products, or be custom-made to power vehicles.

Pinhero envisions several commercial product spin-offs, including infrared (IR) detection. These include improved contraband-identifying products for airports and the military, optical computing, and infrared line-of-sight telecommunications.

A study on the design and manufacturing process was published in the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering, http://asmedl.aip.org/Solar/

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