Thin-film 'thermal well' emitters and absorbers for high-efficiency thermophotovoltaics

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Abstract

A new approach is introduced to significantly improve the performance of thermophotovoltaic (TPV) systems using low-dimensional thermal emitters and photovoltaic (PV) cells. By reducing the thickness of both the emitter and the PV cell, strong spectral selectivity in thermal emission and absorption can be achieved by confining photons in trapped waveguide modes inside the thin-films that act as thermal analogs to quantum wells. Simultaneously, photo-excited carriers travel shorter distances across the thin-films reducing bulk recombination losses resulting in a lower saturation current in the PV cell. We predict a TPV efficiency enhancement with near-field coupling between the thermal emitter and the PV cell up to 38.7% using a thin-film germanium (Ge) emitter at 1000 K and an ultra-thin gallium antimonide (GaSb) cell supported by perfect back reflectors separated by 100 nm. Even in the far-field limit, the efficiency is predicted to reach 31.5%, which is over an order of magnitude higher than the Shockley Queisser limit of 1.6% for a bulk GaSb cell and a blackbody emitter at 1000 K. The proposed design approach does not require nanoscale patterning of the emitter and PV cell surfaces, but instead offers a simple low-cost solution to improve the performance of thermophotovoltaic systems.

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Tong, J. K., Hsu, W. C., Huang, Y., Boriskina, S. V., & Chen, G. (2015). Thin-film “thermal well” emitters and absorbers for high-efficiency thermophotovoltaics. Scientific Reports, 5. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep10661

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