Is it possible to create electricity and cool the atmosphere of the planet at the same time? Maybe, if we exploit two more than abundant resources given to us by nature: the Sun, a source of practically inexhaustible clean energy, and the space, the ideal thermal well to dispose of our excess heat.

This discovery is due to a team of American and Chinese researchers who have developed a potentially revolutionary technology: a new type of solar panel able to convert light into energy, and to send excess heat into space.  Their research would allow us in the future to produce electricity to power the air conditioners, while at the same time reducing the need to use them, cooling the buildings from the outside. According to Shanhui Fan, Stanford’s electronic engineer who coordinated the research it could turn out to be the first device able to produce and save energy at the same time, exploiting two very different light properties.

What properties of light are used?

The first property, which we all know very well now, is that light can be exploited to produce electricity, as has been the case for decades in common solar panels.

The second property is based on a physical principle called radiative cooling, which is a principle that allows the transfer of heat from a warmer body to a colder one due to irradiation, thanks to the wavelengths of light in the infrared. In reality, even this is one not new, but the genius of the researchers was to be able to demonstrate that at some particular wavelengths it is possible to pass the infrared rays through the atmosphere without difficulty, which was previously considered impossible, this allows the heat to be dispersed directly in space.

The discovery is the basis of the new prototype: a cylinder composed of a top layer designed to absorb the heat of sunlight and thus produce energy, and a lower one that cools the device by shooting the excess heat in space, in the form of infrared radiation of the right wavelength. Tested on the roofs of the University of Stanford, the device has already proven to work properly: the bottom (which shoots away the heat) turned out to be substantially colder than the top (which must absorb and transform heat into energy ) and the surrounding atmosphere.

What do you think about it? would you put one on your roof?

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Shanhui Fan

Radiation transmitted by the atmosphere

Space solar panel

Radiative cooling

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