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