Overcoming the black body limit in plasmonic and graphene near-field thermophotovoltaic systems

Ognjen Ilic, John D. Joannopoulos, Marin Soljačić, Ivan Celanovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

206 Scopus citations


Near-field thermophotovoltaic (TPV) systems with carefully tailored emitter-PV properties show large promise for a new temperature range (600 – 1200K) solid state energy conversion, where conventional thermoelectric (TE) devices cannot operate due to high temperatures and far-field TPV schemes suffer from low efficiency and power density. We present a detailed theoretical study of several different implementations of thermal emitters using plasmonic materials and graphene. We find that optimal improvements over the black body limit are achieved for low bandgap semiconductors and properly matched plasmonic frequencies. For a pure plasmonic emitter, theoretically predicted generated power density of 14 Wcm2 and efficiency of 36% can be achieved at 600K (hot-side), for 0.17eV bandgap (InSb). Developing insightful approximations, we argue that large plasmonic losses can, contrary to intuition, be helpful in enhancing the overall near-field transfer. We discuss and quantify the properties of an optimal near-field photovoltaic (PV) diode. In addition, we study plasmons in graphene and show that doping can be used to tune the plasmonic dispersion relation to match the PV cell bangap. In case of graphene, theoretically predicted generated power density of 6(120) W cm2 and efficiency of 35(40)% can be achieved at 600(1200)K, for 0.17eV bandgap. With the ability to operate in intermediate temperature range, as well as high efficiency and power density, near-field TPV systems have the potential to complement conventional TE and TPV solid state heat-to-electricity conversion devices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)A366-A384
JournalOptics Express
Issue number103
StatePublished - May 7 2012
Externally publishedYes


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