Although the concept of using optical rectenna for harvesting solar energy was first introduced four decades ago, only recently has it invited a surge of interest, with dozens of laboratories around the world working on various aspects of the technology. An optical rectenna couples an ultra-high-speed diode to a submicron antenna so that the incoming radiation received by the antenna is rectified by the diode to produce a DC power output. The result is a technology that can be efficient and inexpensive, requiring only low-cost materials. Conventional classical rectification theory does not apply at optical frequencies, necessitating the application of quantum photon-assisted tunneling theory to describe the device operation. At first glance it would appear that the ultimate conversion efficiency is limited only by the Landsberg limit of 93%, but a more sober analysis that includes limitation due to the coherence of solar radiation leads to a result that coincides with the Trivich-Flinn limit of 44%. Innovative antenna designs are required to achieve high efficiency at frequencies where resistive losses in metal are substantial. The diode most often considered for rectennas make use of electron tunneling through ultra-thin insulators in metal-insulator-metal (MIM) diodes. The most severe constraint is that the impedances of the antenna and diodes must match for efficient power transfer. The consequence is an RC time constant that cannot be achieved with parallel-plate MIM diodes, leading to the need for real innovations in diode structures. Technologies under consideration include sharp-tip and traveling-wave MIM diodes, and graphene geometric diodes. We survey the technologies under consideration. © 2013 SPIE.
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