Improved solar thermoelectric generator converts heat directly and more efficient

A team of researchers from the Boston College and MIT have developed a flat panel solar thermoelectric generator that can heat water and produce electricity at the same time and is said to be seven to eight times more efficient than current solar-thermal technologies on the market today.

In solar thermal power plants the heat of the sun makes steam and the steam turns a turbine which produces electricity. The new experimental device converts solar heat directly into power via the Seebeck effect. The Seebeck effect is the conversion of temperature differences directly into electricity. No are mirrors required. Instead the solar absorber, operating in a vacuum, concentrates the heat via conduction onto thermoelectric materials set upon a copper plate. The device requires a difference in temperature of around 200 degrees Celsius, but is apparently more efficient than other, similar experimental devices.

The device features two innovations: a better light-absorbing surface, obtained through the use of “enhanced nanostructured thermoelectric materials” and its placement within an energy-trapping, vacuum-sealed flat panel.
Because of the new ability to generate valuable electricity, the system promises to give users a quicker payback on their investment. This new technology can shorten the payback time by one third, according to Boston College Professor of Physics Zhifeng Ren.

The report was published in the journal Nature Materials at the beginning of this week.

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