Researchers at the University of Newcastle have been awarded more than half a million dollars to create a new device that converts solar energy directly into electricity.
Professor Erich Kisi and Dr Heber Sugo will build a thermionic device to attach to a reflective 'parabolic dish' that collects solar radiation.
"The dish holds a number of mirrors that focus light rays onto our device. When heated, the device emits electrons and generates electricity," principal investigator, Dr Heber Sugo, said.
"In its final form, the thermionic device would feed power inverters which in turn would then supply electricity into the grid."
Dr Sugo said this research project differed from others as it was the first to use refractory materials in the thermionic device.
"Previously, materials used for these types of devices have only been capable of reaching up to 800 degrees Celsius.
"But our device will be made of materials used to propel spacecraft, and will reach temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius.
"Hotter materials produce electricity more efficiently, thereby reducing production costs."
Dr Sugo said the long-term plan was to create a prototype thermionic device that could be commercialised.
The research project is being supported by the Australian Solar Institute, which is contributing $515,000 over three years.
The University's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Mike Calford, said the new project complemented Newcastle's extensive research in renewable energy.
"We recently launched a revolutionary new technology platform to generate power from geothermal and other low-grade heat sources, and we have an extensive research program underway using photovoltaic cells, which also produce energy from sunlight," he said.
"The University is home to the Enterprise Connect Clean Energy Innovation Centre, an Australian Government initiative giving small to medium enterprises access to the latest research and technology in this area."