Flexible Nanoantenna Capture Abundant Solar Energy

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory have recently devised an inexpensive way to produce plastic sheets containing billions of nanoantennas that collect heat energy generated by the sun and other sources. The technology is the first step toward creating a solar energy collector that could be mass-produced on flexible materials.




An array of loop nanoantennas, imprinted on plastic and imaged with a scanning electron microscope. The deposited wire is roughly 200 nanometers thick (Credit: Idaho National Laboratory) 
An array of loop nanoantennas,
imprinted on plastic and imaged
with a scanning electron microscope.
The deposited wire is roughly 200
nanometers thick
(Credit: Idaho National Laboratory)

Methods to convert the energy into usable electricity have yet to be developed; researchers hope that the sheets could one day be manufactured as lightweight “skins” that power everything from hybrid cars to iPods with higher efficiency than traditional solar cells. The nanoantennas also have the potential to act as cooling devices, drawing waste heat from buildings or electronics without using electricity. 

In contrast, traditional solar cells can only use visible light, rendering them useless after dark, while the nanoantennas work by targeting mid-infrared rays, which the earth continuously radiates as heat after absorbing energy from the sun during the day. 

INL researchers Dale Kotter (left), Steven Novack, and Judy Partin are developing flexible plastic sheets of nanoantennas to collect solar energy (Credit: Idaho National Laboratory) 
INL researchers Dale Kotter (left),
Steven Novack, and Judy Partin are
developing flexible plastic sheets of
nanoantennas to collect solar energy
(Credit: Idaho National Laboratory)

Additionally, the nanoantennas’ ability to absorb infrared radiation makes them promising cooling devices. While objects give off heat as infrared rays, the nanoantennas could collect those rays and re-emit the energy at harmless wavelengths. Such a system could cool down buildings and computers without the external power source required by air-conditioners and fans. 

More technological advances are still needed before these nanoantennas can funnel their energy into usable electricity. If these technical hurdles can be overcome, nanoantennas have the potential to become a cheaper, more efficient alternative to solar cells. 

TFOT recently covered asphalt roads that can produce renewable energy as well as flexible solar nanoantennas and the Yo-Gen, hand powered generator

More about the new nanoanntena arrays can be found on the Idaho National Laboratory website.