The antenna-rectifier converts light into direct current

Based on multi-walled carbon nanotubes, and made of them tiny rectifiers, optical antenna-rectifiers can open a new technology for photodetectors that operate without the need for cooling reservoirs of excess heat that convert waste heat into electricity, and ultimately, a new way to efficiently collect solar energy.

The new device, developed by engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, carbon nanotubes act as antennas, collecting light from the sun or other sources. As soon as the light waves reach the antenna, they create an oscillating charge that moves through the rectifier device attached to it. Rectifiers switched on and off from a record high frequency, measured in petagertsah, creating a small DC current.

Billions of antenna-rectifier array can produce a significant current, although the effectiveness of the device, demonstrated today remains below one percent. The researchers hope to increase this capacity by optimization, and believe that the antenna-rectifier with commercial potential could be available within a year.

“We could eventually make solar cells that are twice as effective and at a price that is ten times lower, and for me it is an opportunity to greatly change the world,” said Baratund Cola (Baratunde Cola), Associate Professor of School of Mechanical Engineering Institute of Technology Georgia. “As a reliable heat detector, these antennas can be completely disruptive technology if we can get to the efficiency of one percent. If we can get a higher efficiency, we can use them in power conversion technology and the collection of solar energy.”

The study, supported by the Agency for long-term planning of research works of the Ministry of Defense (DARPA), the US Navy (SPAWAR) military research laboratory, was published on September 28 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Developed between 1960 and of the 1970s, the antenna-rectifier worked with waves, length not shorter than ten microns, but more than 40 years, researchers have tried to make the device operating at optical wavelengths. There were a lot of problems: an antenna small enough to capture the dimensions of optical waves, making the appropriate rectifying diode over small and unable to run fast enough to catch the vibrations of electromagnetic waves. But the potential of high efficiency and low cost makes scientists continue to explore this technology.

6 October 2015

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