Near-field thermophotovoltaic (NFTPV) devices have received much attention lately as attractive energy harvesting systems, whereby a heated thermal emitter exchanges super-Planckian near-field radiation with a photovoltaic (PV) cell to generate electricity. This work describes the advancement of NFTPV technology through both simulations of next-generation devices, and experimental research addressing the technical challenges faced by NFTVPs, including nanostructured material properties, and large-area near field heat transfer.
The first part of this work seeks to improve the performance of a possible NFTPV device by using a periodic tungsten grating as the thermal emission source. The effects on the electrical power generation and the conversion efficiency are investigated via simulations with different grating geometries. It is found that using the selected grating geometry the power output and efficiency could be increased by 40% and 6%, respectively, over a flat tungsten emitter. The reasoning behind the enhancement is attributed to a plasmonic resonance that shifts towards lower frequencies at large wavenumbers.
Extensive experimental research is undertaken to investigate the technical challenges in NFTPVs. The optical properties of thin tungsten films, which may serve as an emitter material, are extracted through spectroscopic measurements, and are found to be significantly different from reported bulk values due to a wide range of crystal structures that are present in sputtered films. A heat transfer experiment is designed and built to measure near-field radiation between two doped-silicon slabs separated by a submicron vacuum gap. The details of this system and the sample fabrication show a robust and straightforward method of measuring large-area near-field radiative heat transfer at distances below 400 nm. The results of this experiment show the largest energy throughput of submicron near-field heat transfer to date, and serve to address technical challenges behind practical near-field thermophotovoltaic technology.