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Photo of photovoltaic solar cells.
June 3, 2019

The future looks bright for custom-tuned energy emitting materials

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

A new review paper in the research journal Nature Materials helps lay the groundwork for advanced energy harvesting, new lighting technologies, improved radiative cooling and thermal camouflage. The paper describes ongoing efforts to custom-engineer the process called thermal emission, which is what causes hot objects to radiate energy—for example, as seen in the red glow of heating coils in a toaster oven.

In the paper, senior author Mikhail Kats, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with colleagues at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, Dukhov Research Institute of Automatics in Russia, and City University of New York, explain recent insights into the fundamental physics behind thermal emission and discuss current approaches to creating materials with tunable thermal emission properties, including custom-designed fabrics woven with engineered fibers that radiate or retain heat. Although engineering challenges remain, the authors speculate that tunable thermal emission materials will play an ever-growing role in applications where heat transfer is important, such as for high-performance photovoltaic solar cells.