An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: An international team of scientists has demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to generate a measurable amount of electricity in a diode directly from the coldness of the universe. The infrared semiconductor device faces the sky and uses the temperature difference between Earth and space to produce the electricity. In contrast to leveraging incoming energy as a normal solar cell would, the negative illumination effect allows electrical energy to be harvested as heat leaves a surface. Today’s technology, though, does not capture energy over these negative temperature differences as efficiently. By pointing their device toward space, whose temperature approaches mere degrees from absolute zero, the group was able to find a great enough temperature difference to generate power through an early design. The group found that their negative illumination diode generated about 64 nanowatts per square meter, a tiny amount of electricity, but an important proof of concept, that the authors can improve on by enhancing the quantum optoelectronic properties of the materials they use. Calculations made after the diode created electricity showed that, when atmospheric effects are taken into consideration, the current device can theoretically generate almost 4 watts per square meter, roughly one million times what the group’s device generated and enough to help power machinery that is required to run at night. By comparison, today’s solar panels generate 100 to 200 watts per square meter. The study has been published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

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