New Material Converts 90 Percent of Captured Light into Heat

First Posted: Oct 29, 2014 01:37 PM EDT

Scientists may have made a breakthrough when it comes to absorbing and converting heat. They've made a new nanoparticle-based material that can concentrate solar power plants designed to absorb and convert to heat more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures.

"We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight that doesn't let any of it escape," said Sungho Jin, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We want the black hole of sunlight."

The new material features a "multiscale" surface that's created by using particles of many sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers. These structures can trap and absorb light, which contributes to the high efficiency of the material when used at higher temperatures.

Traditional power plants burn coal or fossil fuels to create heat that then evaporates water into steam. The steam then turns a giant turbine that generates electricity from spinning magnets and conductor wire coils. Concentrating solar power (CSP), an emerging alternative clean energy, can create the steam needed to turn the turbine by using sunlight to heat molten salt.

One of the most common types of CSP systems uses more than 100,000 reflective mirrors to aim sunlight at a tower that has been spray painted with light absorbing black paint material. This material is designed to maximize absorption. With this latest material, though, this absorption can be increased to make it far more efficient. In addition, the new material can be used to retrofit existing power plants that use coal or fossil fuels.

The findings are published in the journal Nano Energy.

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