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Scientists Say We Can Generate Electricity from the Coldness of the Universe

Scientists have demonstrated that electric power can be generated from the coldness of the universe directly, using the negative illumination effect.

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An international team of scientists has shown for the first time that it is possible to generate a measurable amount of electricity in a diode directly from the coldness of the universe.

A Solar Panel’s greatest drawback is that it requires sunlight to generate electricity. So, what if there was a similar device that could generate electricity but without sunlight?

It has been explained that for a device on Earth facing space, which has a frigid temperature, the chilling outflow of energy from the device can be harvested using the same kind of optoelectronic physics we have used to harness solar energy.

Revolutionary Find

The infrared semiconductor device stares at the sky and uses the temperature difference between Earth and space to produce electricity.

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The study, which has been published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, offers a potential path to generating electricity like solar cells but that can power electronics even at night.

Here's a a potential path to generating electricity like solar cells but that can power electronics at night. Image Credit: Masashi Ono.
Here’s a potential path to generating electricity like solar cells but that can power electronics at night. Image Credit: Masashi Ono.

“The vastness of the universe is a thermodynamic resource,” revealed Shanhui Fan, from Stanford University in the US.

“In terms of optoelectronic physics, there is really this very beautiful symmetry between harvesting incoming radiation and harvesting outgoing radiation.”

“The amount of power that we can generate with this experiment, at the moment, is far below what the theoretical limit is,” explained Masashi Ono, a co-author on the paper.

In the study, scientists explain how their negative illumination diode was able to generate approximately 64 nanowatts per square meter, which is admittedly a tiny amount of electricity, but an important proof of concept nonetheless, that the authors can improve by enhancing the quantum optoelectronic properties of the materials they use.

According to calculations made after the diode produced electricity showed that, when we take into consideration atmospheric effects, the device would be able to theoretically generate nearly 4 watts per square meter.

This, say researchers, is roughly one million times what the group’s device generated and would be more than enough to provide electricity and power to machinery that needs to function at night.

Scientists have revealed that in comparison, today’s solar panels are able to generate around 100 to 200 watts per square meter.

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