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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N021258/1
Title: Nano-rectennas for heat-to-electricity conversion
Principal Investigator: Balocco, Professor C
Other Investigators:
Hill, Dr EW Song, Professor AM Gallant, Professor AJ
Wood, Professor D
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Engineering
Organisation: Durham, University of
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 July 2016 Ends: 14 October 2019 Value (£): 709,834
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy Storage
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
18 Nov 2015 Thermal Energy Challenge Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
This project addresses a new technology to convert radiant heat to electricity, using large arrays of electronic nano-devices known as nano-rectennas. We envisage their use in micro (also known as domestic) combined heat-power (CHP) systems, converting part of the heat generated by the burner into electricity. Unlike thermoelectric devices, our proposed energy converters are neither in physical contact with the hot source, nor require materials with a high toxicity or strict disposal regulations. Our rectennas are fabricated using "green" materials, and are based on common metals (e.g., titanium, platinum and gold), carbon (in the form of graphene) and non-toxic highly-stable organic layers.

The micro, or domestic, combined heat power system (mCHP) is relatively new technology which enables local generation of both heat and electricity by burning gas - effectively replacing the old boiler. A report commissioned to Ecuity Consulting LLP by the major UK energy players and published in 2013 [available at www.ecuity.com] found that mCHP is the most cost-effective method for using gas, and it is uniquely placed for underpinning the UK policies aiming to the 2050 decarbonisation target.

Currently, the gas-to-electricity conversion is achieved using quite bulky systems such as fuel cells, or Stirling engines driven by a gas burner, which require maintenance and/or have moving parts. The only compact, maintenance-free solid-state technology is thermoelectric generation, but, apart from the low efficiency, requires toxic materials which are difficult to dispose of.

In this project, we propose the conversion of radiant heat to electricity using novel electronic nano-devices called nano-rectennas. A gas burner is utilised to heat water using a conventional heat exchanger, while heat radiated by the burner is collected by the nano-rectennas and converted to electricity. Nano-rectennas will be manufactured on a flexible sheet, which can be easily fitted on gas burning systems. Preliminary estimates on the amount of power radiated indicate that it will suffice to power domestic premises.

The main challenge of the project is the fabrication of nano-rectifiers operating at infrared frequencies on large area with high yield, and their connection to the micro-antennas which collect the radiation. Recently, we have experimentally demonstrated a low-efficiency proof-of-concept with a source temperature ranging from 280 C to 700 C [Y. Pan, C. V. Powell, A. M. Song and C. Balocco, Appl. Phys. Lett. 105, 253901 (2014)]. This proposal aims to address the conversion efficiency shortcomings and develop a cost-effective prototype. The fabrication of the nano-rectifiers will be approached with two complementary device concepts: the first based is based on a new type of metal-insulator-metal (MIM) diode, named the self-assembled monolayer diode (SAMD), and the second based on ballistic rectification in graphene, called the graphene ballistic rectifier (GBR).
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