This black is the new black, and light is its prisoner

​Originally published in Wired

Black gold signals the future of energy in the Middle East—and, for once, that doesn't mean oil. At least this is the vision of Italy-born academic Andrea Fratalocchi, who in 2015 was recognized by Guinness World Records for co-creating the "blackest black"—the darkest human-made substance, which is actually fashioned from gold.

The nanomaterial Fratalocchi's team invented absorbs more than 99 percent of visible light and over 98 percent of infrared. Think of it as a tiny, imperfect, terrestrial black hole, just sucking in light rays.

While having joined Neil Armstrong and Usain Bolt in the record books makes for a great dinner-party anecdote, that's not where the story ends. Five years on, Fratalocchi is looking at how to use the material to boost the efficiency of solar cells. A major hurdle is making it from something other than gold, which is too costly for energy production.

"If you want to harvest light and turn it into electricity, the first thing you need to do is absorb light efficiently," says Fratalocchi, a professor of electrical engineering at KAUST in Saudi Arabia. "Creating a material that absorbs all types of light regardless of the frequency, direction, or polarization finds lots of energy applications."

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