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infrared radiation

Heat-activated solar panel

A material that can radiate heat in a controlled manner could serve as the basis for a different kind of solar panel (Nature Communications, April 13, 2016). The new panel would be able to capture not just the energy from electromagnetic radiation, perceived in the form of light, but also infrared radiation—heat. In addition, the thermophotovoltaic cells could reuse the energy lost from the heat given off by machines in general. A team led by physicist Xiang Zhang of the University of California, Berkeley, developed the material, based on nanostructures of magnesium fluoride, gold and silicon nitride. Most materials radiate heat in disorganized fashion, in several directions. The nanostructures of the new material can be organized in such a way that, when heated, the thermophotovoltaic cells will radiate heat in the form of infrared radiation at a single wavelength and direction of propagation.