May 04, 2011
Micron-gap ThermalPhotoVoltaics update
energy, materials, physics, quantum dots, quantum well, solar, thermoelectric, thermo-photovoltaic cells
Micron-gap TPV (MTPV) provides a significant breakthrough in power source technology by transferring more power between the emitter and receiver by reducing the size of the gap between them. By employing a submicron gap, the achievable power density for MTPV can be increased by approximately an order of magnitude as compared to conventional TPV. Equivalently, for a given active area and power density, the temperature on the hot-side of an MTPV device can be reduced by about 45%. which allows for new applications for on chip power, waste heat power generation, and converter power.
“We will be entering the market at 1 Watt per square centimeter, and we believe we are about two years away from perfecting our second-generation technology capable of more than 40-50 Watts per square centimeter,” Mather said.
The company “is about 12 months away from the start of selling commercial products.” The “quad” module (pictured above) could be inserted into the gas flow of an industrial plant or the methane burn-off at a coal mine. It will generate about 300 Watts, about one-fourth the power needed to power a small home. Smaller modules are also in development.
MPTV has developed the concepts and now has small teams in Austin, Boston, and Wuhan, China. The company has developed modules which deliver 10-50 times more power than earlier thermal photovoltaics.
The silicon-based MEMS emitter takes heat, ranging in temperature from 100 to 1400°C, and transfers radiation to the germanium-based photovoltaic device. Mather said the emitter prototypes now being made in Boston will be manufactured soon at SVTC’s fab in Austin in relatively modest commercial quantities. Later, production will be transferred to a foundry for higher-volume manufacturing.
While germanium has the advantage of being low in cost, Mather said MTPV, with government research support, has been developing second-generation photovoltaic devices that take advantage of the bandgap properties of other semiconductor materials. Working with MIT professor Peter Hagelstein, MPTV is developing a second-generation technology that delivers more energy, using quantum dots and quantum wells which promise to be more efficient at relatively low source temperatures, in the 100-degree Centigrade range.
“There is a tremendous amount of waste heat generated by industries now,” Mather said, adding that in the long run “MTPV technology has application anywhere where there is waste heat exceeding 100 degrees C.”
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