Black Hole Sun

In the race to build a better solar conductor, a multidisciplinary engineering team at UC San Diego has made a great leap forward.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program, researchers have developed a new nanoparticle-based material designed to absorb and convert to heat more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures. The new, sprayable material can also withstand temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius and survive many years outdoors despite exposure to air  and humidity.

“We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight and doesn’t let any of it escape. We want the black hole of sunlight,” says Sungho Jin, a professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Jin, along with professor Zhaowei Liu of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering professor Renkun Chen, developed the black ceramic nanoparticles. They are all experts in  functional materials engineering.

The material features a multiscale surface created by using particles of many sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers. The multiscale structures can trap and absorb light, which contributes to the material’s high efficiency when operated at higher temperatures.

Concentrating solar power is an emerging alternative clean-energy market that produces approximately 3.5 gigawatts worth of power at power plants around the globe—enough to power more than 2  million homes. The technology can be used to retrofit existing power plants that use  coal or fossil fuels because it uses the same process to generate electricity from steam.