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Indeed, if the new materials do make more efficient thermophotovoltaics, there will be no shortage of potential uses. Kassakian says a particularly good application, when combined with the a new air-conditioning system, could be for use in trucks with sleeper cabs to cool the cabs and provide electricity for televisions and other equipment. And, says Donald Chubb, a researcher at the NASA Glenn Research Center, “The military has had a lot of interest in it for portable power supplies in the field. Because there are no moving parts, there wouldn’t be any noise, so you couldn’t detect it.”

It will be several years before the technology can used in vehicles, though. Challenges include scaling up the fabrication process, developing effective insulation and cooling systems to manage the heat generated, and ensuring that the system remains efficient on a larger scale. The MIT research is funded in part by Toyota, but the automaker has not committed to implementing the technology.

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