Photoelectric solar power revisited
The outer pane of the device is transparent and can conduct electricity, while the inner window is coated with a material that acts a source of electrons under illumination by sunlight, called a "photocathode". The panes are separated by a safe inert gas, such as argon. On sunlight striking the device, electrons are knocked from the photocathode to bounce through the gas to the outer pane without being absorbed or lost, which is very different to the way electrons usually act in solar panels. The electrons are then collected and the electrical energy transported into the grid through a gas-filled gap instead of a vacuum, making it much more cost-effective.
The published results put the potential for photoelectric solar power on a much more quantitative basis, and highlight the transport of low energy electrons through atmospheric pressure gas, something of broader interest in energy research. The main applications lie in solar power generation if the materials challenges can be resolved, as well as thermionic power conversion and ultraviolet detection technologies. The team also hope that the materials science community will be inspired by the idea to further investigate photocathodes working in inert gas rather than vacuum.