A team of researchers at Boston College and Duke University have developed a highly engineered metamaterial capable of absorbing all of the light that strikes, to the point of a scientific standard of perfection. The metamaterial uses geometric surface features to capture the electric and magnetic properties of light in the shorter spectrum share of visible light.

Metamaterial Light to Heat Absorber

Boston College physicist Willie J. Padilla says, “Light can be reflected as in a mirror, transmitted as through a window glass, or absorbed and turned into heat. This metamaterial has been engineered to ensure that all light is neither reflected nor transmitted, but is turned completely into heat and absorbed. Its shows we can design a metamaterial so that at a specific frequency it can absorb all of the photons that fall onto its surface.”

Using prior research findings in the field of designing resonators that couple individually to electric and magnetic fields the group used computer simulations to design a metamaterial to successfully absorb all incident radiation. The metamaterial is a metallic composite made up solely of metal elements. The many element composite uses the individual element properties that can be highly absorptive over a narrow range that when combined onto the meta framework become more fully capable of absorption over the range.

The press release connects the research to such fields as light collection and detection for use in imaging. But they also say that the metamaterial designs give the materials new properties beyond the single element components and allow designers to produce tailored responses to radiation. The release also asserts that the construction makes the material geometrically scalable and these materials are able to operate over a significant portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

In addition to Padilla, the team included BC researcher Nathan I. Landy, Duke University professor David R. Smith and researchers Soji Sajuyigbe and Jack J. Mock.

It all sounds great. Yet there is no statement of the effective efficiency of the incoming radiation to heat. Nor is the frequency range disclosed or the operational information that would peak interest. Nevertheless, the prospect that solar radiation at frequencies higher than the infrared that could be efficiently converted to heat energy is quite interesting. With so many quotes of watts and energy per square meter arriving from the sun, each instance about the idea that a larger or much larger share could become heat from the higher frequencies could lead to much higher outputs from solar collection.

Idaho National Labs Nanoantenna Electromagnetic Collectors

Should the research expand to transforming solar radiation to heat and then exposed to the nanoantenna electromagnetic collectors a tidy system of solar radiation to electricity would be available. With the actual paper also buried behind in the pay to see barrier we’ll have to wait to see if the team has any measurements that earn merit and further attention.

The principle of transforming the spectrum of light above the infrared into heat offers a simpler way to get the solar radiated energy into workable form. Whether or not the researchers, grantors or industry catches on is yet to be seen. Not addressing the specific operating spectrums leaves much out, too. The announcement via a press release is in this case very vague and thin.

But should the college or the team get up to speed in disclosure with information that establishes some facts perhaps the industrialization visions may get powered up. Along with nanoantenna electromagnetic collectors, solar heat is very rapidly growing in the U.S. southwest and across the planet. If they really have something that might aid in coating the tubing that is used in thermal collectors, the research could make significant contributions very quickly.

Perhaps in the rush to publish, the application potential hasn’t been given much thought. Or the team simply is simply so deep in the work the value and timing isn’t on the table for consideration. There are lots of reasons that can leave the outside perspectives coming up blank.

Whatever this actually can mean is yet to come, but the idea to convert the spectrum of light above the infrared to useable heat energy is a very smart idea, indeed. A little speculation? The Idaho National Lab team working on the nanoantenna collector get the electrical output under control – the metamaterial absorber would apply a much wider range of light to heat – and we could calculate a new collection medium that has a very high efficiency. Or, the metamaterial can be applied to solar thermal collectors and that system has a nice efficiency increase. The glimmer of more efficient solar radiation to heat energy may have just gotten a boost.

More Data, Please!


1 Comment so far

  1. Kymberly on January 31, 2011 9:29 PM

    Thanks for this post. I literally agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my father so just maybe this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

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