Nanoantennas change heat into electricity

Solar cells that work at night

Solar cells become ineffective when the sun goes down. At night, the earth radiates heat back toward the sky. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory are working on a device to turn infrared radiation into electricity.

Nanoantennas convert infrared rays into electricity

Billions of nanoantennas printed onto thin, inexpensive sheets will transform heat energy into electricity. The physics behind this conversion is the same as that of a radio antenna. The only difference between radiowaves and infrared light is wavelength. Antennas 1/25 the size of a human hair resonate when bombarded with heat radiation. If the resulting alternating current can be passed through a rectifier (one way valve) the current can charge up batteries. The infrared rays create alternating currents in the nanoantennas that oscillate trillions of times per second.

"Today's rectifiers can't handle such high frequencies. "We need to design nanorectifiers that go with our nanoantennas," says Kotter, noting that a nanoscale rectifier would need to be about 1,000 times smaller than current commercial devices and will require new manufacturing methods. Another possibility is to develop electrical circuitry that might slow down the current to usable frequencies." Eureka Alert

If these technical hurdles can be overcome, nanoantennas have the potential to be a cheaper, more efficient alternative to solar cells. Computer models of nanoantennas predict up to 92% efficiency (compared to solar cells around 20%).

Learn more in this video, "Harvesting the sun's energy with antennas"

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

htomfields's picture
htomfields says:

The Idaho National Laboratory has a lot of other environmentally friendly projects. The Web site is but there is also a channel at YouTube.

I would also suggest the "Motion to Energy M2E" video.

posted on Mon, 09/08/2008 - 3:09pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Does the conversion of heat to electricity result in cooling? Could it be used for thing like air conditioning? :)

posted on Thu, 09/18/2008 - 11:20am
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

You are on the right track. This is a quote from the 2nd paragraph at Eureka:

The nanoantennas also have the potential to act as cooling devices that draw waste heat from buildings or electronics without using electricity.

posted on Thu, 09/25/2008 - 6:03pm
Anonymous_response's picture
Anonymous_response says:


Some folks stumble over this concept but no laws are violated. It's just a very efficient heat sink.

posted on Thu, 11/11/2010 - 5:36pm
Bob2's picture
Bob2 says:

Yes, that's correct. Just a very efficient heat sink. The second law applies but it is not so easy to translate the concept from standard thermodynamics to antenna's.

posted on Mon, 01/30/2012 - 3:52pm
zimba's picture
zimba says:

Yes, since heat is converted to electricity, the surrounding temperature drops, resulting in a cooling effect.

A company called GMZ Energy Inc has been formed by researchers from Boston College to use bismuth antimony telluride to "make environmentally friendly material in large quantities for existing cooling system".

Read up on thermionics and the thermoelectric effect.

Also Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory are working on nanoantennas to turn infrared radiation into electricity, which could be a major solution to the global warming phenomenon.

Finally, at the end of the seemingly dark tunnel there seems to be light... or should I say heat :P

Makes me wonder, if we can create circuits with pneumatics, hydrolics and electronics, how about thermionic circuits? (They'd work even in a vacuum!)... good for space dwelling..

posted on Fri, 05/14/2010 - 10:01pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

They actually got money to attempt to overcome the second law of thermodynamics? What a waste.

posted on Thu, 09/25/2008 - 3:59pm
Anonymous_response's picture
Anonymous_response says:

The antenna's work just fine. @nd law is save but there is always someone who blathers out that the nanoantenna's won't work.

posted on Thu, 11/11/2010 - 4:40pm
Bob2's picture
Bob2 says:

No, the antenna concept works. Multiple labs demonstrations over several decades proved that.

posted on Mon, 01/30/2012 - 3:53pm
pliskin619's picture
pliskin619 says:

we need roads made of this stuff ...we can power our cars and citys our next generation will have it made in the shade ...

posted on Sat, 07/04/2009 - 12:24am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

You know, people come up with ideas all the time. However, what some people have overlooked is Lenzs law in motors. Solar panels take up space which can be a waste (at least there's no pollution), and we all know about coal, gas, etc. However in an electric motor, you can spin it to get electricity. However, you can make it perpetual for infinite energy by getting rid of Back EMF (a magnetic field that is produced in a generator when wire coils pass through a magnetic field generating current). With Back EMF, the more load on a generator, the harder for it to spin, and thus you have limits on what can be produced. No back EMF means no resistance on any loads given to a generator, and thus, an electric motor can spin the generator (without the back emf present), and with the absense of resistance, can produce enough energy for itself, plus anything else. Perpetual energy that doesnt take up many square miles. Of course, a 6 by 6 square mile area of SOLID present day solar panels (most of which COULD have been afforded had the governernment not wasted money on the GM bailouts) could power the whole USA if in a place such as Texas, or other places that tend to get extremely high amounts of sunlight.

Damn oil companies also with their greed will stop at nothing to prevent this stuff from being made, and bringing down their businesses. Screw them.

posted on Wed, 09/16/2009 - 9:08pm
Anonymous_response's picture
Anonymous_response says:


You are proposing a form of perpertual motion to get energy which is not allowed under the laws of physics as currently understood.

posted on Thu, 11/11/2010 - 5:28pm
Subrat's picture
Subrat says:

Till now we're generating electricity from heat energy through solar cell,but nanoantennas would be a great replacement for it & it has efficiency of 92% which is very high.Thanks to researchers for finding such renewable sources of energy.


posted on Tue, 01/05/2010 - 7:06am
DirkH's picture
DirkH says:

"Anonymous says:
[...]Of course, a 6 by 6 square mile area of SOLID present day solar panels (most of which COULD have been afforded had the governernment not wasted money on the GM bailouts) could power the whole USA if in a place such as Texas, or other places that tend to get extremely high amounts of sunlight."

Hello. I'm german. We buy up all solar cells. We pay the solar cell owners 50 Eurocents (approx 70 US cent) a kWh so its mighty good business for them. Problem is: They only work when the sun shines. So we must build EXACTLY the same amount of wattage in standby gas power plants that can ramp their output up and down fast enough. What you're proposing means: Build 100GW of solar power AND 100GW of gas powered power plants. Otherwise your solar fields are useless. Go figure. BTW customer end price for a kWh is 20 eurocent, approx 30 US cent. Expected to go UP by 6 % a year. I love solar cells but we lack appropriate storage ATM, and i hate high energy prices. Go figure.

posted on Fri, 01/22/2010 - 7:27pm
kamal sharma paudel's picture
kamal sharma paudel says:

Can we change heat into electricity ? And wow?

posted on Sat, 04/10/2010 - 3:35am

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