Antora Energy receives $4 million grant to scale thermophotovoltaic technology


From pv magazine USA

Antora Energy received a grant for over $4 million from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to scale up its heat-to-power thermophotovoltaic technology, which can store renewable power as heat in blocks of solid carbon.

Thermophotovoltaics (TPV) is a power generation technology that uses thermal radiation to generate electricity in photovoltaic cells. A TPV system generally consists of a thermal emitter that can reach high temperatures, near or beyond 1,000 C, and a photovoltaic diode cell that can absorb photons coming from the heat source.

The technology has drawn the interest of scientists for decades, because it is able to capture sunlight in the entire solar spectrum and has the technical potential to beat the Shockley-Queisser limit of traditional photovoltaics. However, the efficiencies reported thus far have been too low to make it commercially viable, as TPV devices still suffer from optical and thermal losses.

Antora said the funding comes from the CEC’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program and another program at the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

The additional funding will further accelerate Antora Energy’s production of thermophotovoltaic technology, or TPV, Andrew Ponec, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said. “With TPV, Antora is capable of decarbonizing the entire energy demand of large industrial facilities—both heat and power—opening the fastest, least expensive path for the industrial sector to reach net zero,” said Ponec.

“Industrial emissions are among the hardest to abate and Antora’s cutting-edge technology holds promise in overcoming that challenge,” Jonah Steinbuck, R&D director at the CEC, said.

The company’s thermophotovoltaic technology essentially converts heat to electricity with no moving parts, Brendan Kayes, its head of photovoltaics research and development, told pv magazine USA. “Much like a solar cell is designed to capture light from the sun, TPV cells convert the light emitted from glowing-hot objects—like Antora Energy’s carbon blocks—into electricity,” Kayes said.

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Antora Energy says its thermal batteries offer a cost-effective way to store energy and produce high-temperature industrial heat and electricity on demand. So far, processes that convert heat into electricity have historically required extensive machinery with lots of moving parts, Kayes said.

“Think steam turbines and internal combustion engines—technologies that have dominated for centuries—that require expensive, ongoing maintenance, and are only efficient and cost-effective at large scale,” Kayes said.

Antora Energy’s thermophotovoltaic cells, however, are modular and manufacturable, so their efficiency and cost are reportedly independent of scale — enabling cost-effective deployments from kilowatts to gigawatts, Kayes added. This means it could help replace the use of fossil fuels in processes in the food and beverage, paper products, chemicals, steel and cement industries.

The company’s technology has met two thresholds around efficiency and manufacturing at scale, it says – it has demonstrated heat-to-electricity conversion efficiencies higher than 40%, and earlier this year, set up a dedicated manufacturing line for thermophotovoltaic cells that is the first of its kind in the world. The manufacturing line is located in Sunnyvale, California and has an initial capacity of 2 MW of cells per year.

The thermal batteries are built to address energy needs across virtually every industrial sector, and could have major ramifications in sectors beyond manufacturing, including the electric grid, remote power and others, Kayes said.

Last December, Antora Energy announced it had acquired Medley Thermal – a developer and software company specializing in renewable power-to-heat systems – to help commercialize its heat and power technology. Medley Thermal had previously developed projects that used renewables to cost-effectively electrify heat, and had a robust pipeline of power-to-heat projects, Antora Energy said.


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