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This dissertation investigates Near-Field Thermal Radiation (NFTR) applied to MEMS-based concentrated solar thermophotovoltaics (STPV) energy conversion and thermal memory and logics. NFTR is the exchange of thermal radiation energy at nano/microscale; when separation between the hot and cold objects is less than dominant radiation wavelength (~1 μm). NFTR is particularly of interest to the above applications due to its high rate of energy transfer, exceeding the blackbody limit by orders of magnitude, and its strong dependence on separation gap size, surface nano/microstructure and material properties.
Concentrated STPV system converts solar radiation to electricity using heat as an intermediary through a thermally coupled absorber/emitter, which causes STPV to have one of the highest solar-to-electricity conversion efficiency limits (85.4%). Modeling of a near-field concentrated STPV microsystem is carried out to investigate the use of STPV based solid-state energy conversion as high power density MEMS power generator. Numerical results for In0.18Ga0.82Sb PV cell illuminated with tungsten emitter showed significant enhancement in energy transfer, resulting in output power densities as high as 60 W/cm2; 30 times higher than the equivalent far-field power density.
On thermal computing, this dissertation demonstrates near-field heat transfer enabled high temperature NanoThermoMechanical memory and logics. Unlike electronics, NanoThermoMechanical memory and logic devices use heat instead of electricity to record and process data; hence they can operate in harsh environments where electronics typically fail. NanoThermoMechanical devices achieve memory and thermal rectification functions through the coupling of near-field thermal radiation and thermal expansion in microstructures, resulting in nonlinear heat transfer between two temperature terminals. Numerical modeling of a conceptual NanoThermoMechanical is carried out; results include the dynamic response under write/read cycles for a practical silicon-based device. NanoThermoMechanical rectification is achieved experimentally—for the first time—with measurements at a high temperature of 600 K, demonstrating the feasibility of NanoThermoMechanical to operate in harsh environments. The proof-of-concept device has shown a maximum rectification of 10.9%. This dissertation proposes using meshed photonic crystal structures to enhance NFTR between surfaces. Numerical results show thermal rectification as high as 2500%. Incorporating these structures in thermal memory and rectification devices will significantly enhance their functionality and performance.
Advisor: Sidy Ndao