£1.1m awarded to solar energy capture project

The EPSRC has awarded £1.1m to a Surrey University led project, which aims to develop solar-thermal devices that can heat our homes and generate power on a larger scale.


The research sought to create new designs for surfaces that can selectively absorb sunlight while also efficiently emitting heat in the form of near-infrared radiation.

According to the Surrey University researchers, these devices differ from solar cells, which typically convert sunlight into electricity. Solar-thermal devices instead use sunlight to generate heat which can then be used for driving mechanical engines or converted into electricity.

The research project is in collaboration with Bristol University and Northumbria University, and combines expertise in photonics, advanced materials, applied electromagnetics, and nanofabrication facilities.

In a statement, Professor Marian Florescu, principal Investigator from Surrey University, said: "Our project is not just about innovating; it's about responding to a global necessity. The sun showers us with a tremendous amount of energy every day, far more than we currently capture.

“By developing these advanced solar-absorbing surfaces, we are opening up new, efficient ways to harness this abundant solar energy. Our goal is to transform how we use sunlight, making it a powerhouse for clean and sustainable energy that meets our growing needs without harming the planet."

The researchers said the project's three main aims are to develop solar absorbers that can work well even at high temperatures, improve the efficiency of the team's special solar-absorbing structures by building and testing prototype models, and better understand and ultimately improve how these devices handle and perform with the heat they generate from sunlight.

Professor Marin Cryan, co-principal investigator from Bristol University, said: "[Bristol University] has been developing thermionic solar cell technology for a number of years. These use concentrated sunlight to heat materials to the point where thermionic emission of electrons occurs, which can form the basis of high-efficiency, low-cost solar cells. This exciting project will develop very efficient solar selective absorbers, which will be an important component of the overall cell design."

Dr Daniel Ho, co-principal investigator from Northumbria University, said: "Northumbria is at the forefront of thermophotovoltaic research, utilising a specialised microscope heating stage alongside an in-house built Fourier imaging spectroscopy system. This advanced thermal analysis technique enables comprehensive and angle-resolved scattering analysis across both visible and infrared spectrums, even under vacuum conditions and at temperatures as high as 1000°C. 

"We are excited to work with our partners to help achieve pioneering developments in renewable energy research.”