Instituto de Óptica “Daza de Valdés”

CSIC is creating a new technology to make the future’s solar energy quantum and with temperature self-regulation


Madrid / November 23, 2023

Illustration of a dark blue tree leaf which has a part of the leaf made up of electronic circuits
Representation created with Artificial Intelligence of the new photonic material inspired by nature. /Designer

Research groups from the Institute of Materials Science of Madrid (ICMM-CSIC) and the Institute of Optics (IO-CSIC) participate in the European project Adaptation, which is inspired by nature to create new devices that will facilitate adaptation to changes caused by the climate crisis. These devices will absorb solar energy to convert it into electricity while being able to cool themselves, avoiding energy losses. They will do everything in a sustainable way thanks to a European consortium led by the Iberian Peninsula through the CSIC, the Univesidade do Minho (Portugal), the International Iberian Nanotechnology (INL) of Braga (Portugal) and the University of Vigo.

When thinking about any device that absorbs energy to produce electricity (a solar panel), it is easy to understand that it loses efficiency when it heats up. This occurs because normally “the integration of photovoltaic or solar energy collection technologies are incompatible with technologies that allow efficient temperature management.” This is explained by Pedro David García, researcher at the ICMM-CSIC. Given this, this consortium is looking for a groundbreaking solution: “Combine everything in a single material: achieve a good thermal response with the optimization of energy capture from the sun.”

To achieve this, they are going to use a novel concept: quantum biology, inspired by the non-trivial quantum phenomena that occur in photosynthesis. Sara Núñez-Sánchez, coordinator of the Adaptation project from the Universidade do Minho in Portugal, explains that the survival of plants does not depend so much on the amount of energy they absorb, but rather on the fact that they transport that energy very efficiently thanks to non-trivial quantum phenomena. This mechanism is what the project will imitate by creating a new concept of device for converting solar energy.

In Adaptation we will work by imitating at a molecular level how natural photosynthetic tissue is organized to generate new materials that will be the basis of an innovative device. This device will be made up of several nanometric structures and will have the necessary properties for energy absorption and transport, as well as thermal control. “All the structures that we will use have their origin in nature in one way or another, since we will be inspired by natural systems and we will also directly use these nanostructures from nature in the devices,” adds Martín López, INL researcher, also a participant in the project.

“In our institute we are going to characterize the materials to elucidate their properties, so that we can use them to design real devices,” says Rosalía Serna, IO-CSIC researcher. “We will study what type of nanostructures are the most suitable and how light interacts with the material,” adds López, who will join the IO-CSIC shortly.

Cool down without spending energy

Once the first objective of absorbing energy and transporting it efficiently to produce electricity has been achieved, the second objective of Adaptation remains: that the device is capable of performing ‘radiative cooling’. That is, it is capable of cooling itself without spending energy. To do this, researchers will reproduce the process that the Earth does in, for example, the desert. “Cooling things always makes them more efficient,” García emphasizes.

The nanodevices developed at Adaptation will be flexible and can be applied to the surfaces of objects like paint. By covering urban elements such as cars or houses, they will provide energy to these objects while controlling their temperature, allowing them to adapt to the climatic needs of each region. The researchers highlight that this would provide a solution to many current energy problems and several of the challenges of the 2030 agenda.

“We will establish the foundations of a new technology that will have an impact on areas beyond energy management technologies, such as how we transport information in a more sustainable way, thus reducing our dependence on critical materials,” concludes Núñez-Sánchez from Braga (Portugal).

The Adaptation project has received 3.6 million euros through Pathfinder grants from the European Union, aimed at disruptive projects that research and develop technological advances. Nine entities from five different countries will participate in its execution, among which the Iberian Peninsula has a special role: the Universidade do Minho (coordinator) and the Iberian International Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) on behalf of Portugal; the CSIC, the University of Vigo, the company Avanzare Innovation Tecnologica SL and the Cooling Photonics company on behalf of Spain; the University of Strasbourg (France), the University of Utrecht (Netherlands) and the company Sunplugged-solare Energiesysteme GMBH (Austria).

ICMM-CSIC / IO-CSIC Comunication

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