Near-field thermophotovoltaics (NFTPV) is a promising approach for direct conversion of heat to electrical power. This technology relies on the drastic enhancement of radiative heat transfer (compared to conventional blackbody radiation) that occurs when objects at different temperatures are brought to deep subwavelength distances (typically <100 nm) from each other. Achieving such radiative heat transfer between a hot object and a photovoltaic (PV) cell could allow direct conversion of heat to electricity with a greater efficiency than using current solid-state technologies (e.g., thermoelectric generators). One of the main challenges in the development of this technology, however, is its incompatibility with conventional silicon PV cells. Thermal radiation is weak at frequencies larger than the 1.1 eV bandgap of silicon, such that PV cells with lower excitation energies (typically 0.4-0.6 eV) are required for NFTPV. Using low bandgap III-V semiconductors to circumvent this limitation, as proposed in most theoretical works, is challenging and therefore has never been achieved experimentally. In this work, we show that hot carrier PV cells based on Schottky junctions between silicon and metallic films could provide an attractive solution for achieving high efficiency NFTPV electricity generation. Hot carrier science is currently an important field of research and several approaches are investigated for increasing the quantum efficiency (QE) of hot carrier generation beyond conventional Fowler model predictions. If the Fowler limit can indeed be overcome, we show that hot carrier-based NFTPV systems - after optimization of their thermal radiation spectrum - could allow electricity generation with up to 10-30% conversion efficiencies and 10-500 W/cm2 generated power densities (at 900-1500 K temperatures). We also discuss how the unique properties of thermal radiation in the extreme near-field are especially well suited for investigating recently proposed approaches for high QE hot carrier junctions. We therefore expect our work to be of interest for the field of hot carrier science and - by relying solely on conventional thin film materials - to provide a path for the experimental demonstration of NFTPV energy conversion.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Materials Science(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)