Grant to Fund Heat-based Photovoltaic Cells

Spire Corporation announced it was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to develop a new type of thermophotovoltaic (TPV) power cell that produces electricity from heat. The cells are similar to solar cells that convert visible photons to electricity, but the semiconductor material is adjusted to convert long-wavelength or thermal photons to electricity. The grant is from NASA’s John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

The project has potential applications for NASA, to generate electricity from heat generated by long-life radioisotope sources for long duration space missions where the power generated by conventional solar cells is limited due to the large distance from the sun. Commercial applications of TPV cells include electricity co-generation using heat from wood or propane combustion. Bandwidth Semiconductor LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Spire, will develop indium-gallium-arsenide-based TPV cells optimized for both high temperature operation as well as for radiation hardness. Bandwidth Semiconductor, a compound semiconductor foundry specializing in wafer epitaxy and device processing, has more than ten years’ experience providing TPV cells to government customers for special applications. “With this grant, we will leverage our expertise in solar cells, compound semiconductor epitaxy and device processing to grow nanostructures that can efficiently convert heat to electricity for energy generation both on earth and in space,” said Roger Little, Chairman and CEO of Spire.
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