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Proposed Device Harvests Energy from Earth's Infrared Emissions

Physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) envision a device that would harvest energy from Earth’s infrared emissions into outer space.

The research team is proposing something akin to a photovoltaic solar panel. Instead of capturing incoming visible light, however, the device would generate electric power by releasing infrared light.

To show the range of possibilities, the group suggests two different kinds of emissive energy harvesters: one that is analogous to a solar thermal power generator, and one that is analogous to a photovoltaic cell. Both would run in reverse.

The first type of device would consist of a “hot” plate at the temperature of the Earth and air, with a “cold” plate on top of it. The cold plate, facing upward, would be made of a highly emissive material that cools by very efficiently radiating heat to the sky. Based on measurements of infrared emissions in Lamont, Oklahoma (as a case study), the researchers calculate that the heat difference between the plates could generate a few watts per square meter, day and night.

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Also: Learn about the TIRS thermal infrared sensor.