Energy Efficiency

Published on July 25th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

37

New Technology Can Turn Heat Waste Into Electricity

July 25th, 2008 by  

 
Thermoelectric MaterialsGreat news on the power efficiency front: Scientists have invented a new material that can efficiently convert heat waste in cars, power generators, and heat pumps into electricity. The new material is thermoelectric, and can turn heat into energy without any pollution.

The invention, thallium-doped lead telluride, is twice as efficient as the second most efficient material used in thermoelectric power. The lead telluride creates electric power like a conventional heat engine coupled to an electric generator, but uses electrons as the working fluid instead of water or gas. Additionally, it creates electricity directly.

Most importantly, the material is most effective between 450 and 950° Fahrenheit. This is a typical temperature range for many power systems, including car engines.
 


 
Many experts argue that up to 60 percent of a gasoline engine’s energy is lost through waste heat, so a thermoelectric device using lead telluride would be a welcome addition to any car. Such devices have no moving parts; this means that wear and tear is virtually non-existent.

Research project leader Joseph Heremans of Ohio State University is optimistic about the future of thermoelectric nanotechnology—he hopes to boost the efficiency rating of the new material by a factor of two. For now, though, we can be content with the incredible new technology created by Heremans and team.

Posts Related to Alternative Energy Sources:

Photo Credit: Vladimir Jovovic


Check out our new 93-page EV report.

Join us for an upcoming Cleantech Revolution Tour conference!

Tags: , ,


About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



  • Lauren@GreenGlobalTrvl

    Wow what a great way to conserve every last bit of energy we expel as humans. Can’t wait til new innovative alternative energy methods become the norm! Thanks for sharing.

  • Art

    solar power is made from heat isent it

    • can be from heat or light, depending on the technology.

  • Kyle

    It’s tellurium, not thallium. Use of toxic metals is common in all kinds of common materials, including computers, batteries, monitors, tvs, cars, industrial processes, and so on. Cars have to be processed when they’re disposed of anyway, a little extra lead or tellurium won’t make a difference.

    If you’re interested in more of the nitty gritty, it’s most likely a use of the Seebeck effect. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermoelectric_effect)

  • Terrific. Anything to break the dependence on oil.

  • Dale

    In automotive service it could be a removable (and reuseable) device. In industry there is a tremendous amount of waste heat from Boilers, Hot Oil Furnaces and other heating sources used in production. These forms of waste heat could generate huge amounts of electricity and help to reduce our dependence on imported oil. Instead of looking at the first negative we see (toxic metals) we should look at the positives and seek ways to safely achieve this goal.

  • Pingback: No Small Steps for Man, One Giant Leap for Prius : CleanTechnica()

  • Pingback: Smokestack Heat Seen as Possible Fuel Source : CleanTechnica()

  • Yogesh Mistry

    SOUNDS UNPRACTICAL TILL THE TECHNOLOGY DOES NOT PROVE ITSELF. BUT GOOD THINGS ARE NOT BELEIVED IN THE FIRST INSTANCE.

    WELL IF WORKS IS WONDERFUL ACHIVEMENT.

    KINLDY SEND MORE INFORMATION

  • Arwin

    One correction: NescioNomen, who posted two *posts above me.

    Also, referring to someone’s comment on the first page. I’m pretty sure an internal combustion engine reaches temperatures far greater than ~200 degrees F.

    This technology would not be implemented in such a way to reduce the running temperature of the engine by cooling it, and therefore reducing the engine’s efficiency. It would be use to soak up heat being released to the environment, which is pretty much where all the gasoline’s energy [thats not converted to kinetic energy or lost to frictin] goes anyway. Although a lot of that heat is lost throughout the entire car at various axles and in all moving/electronic components, the heat surrounding the engine can be potentially tapped into. It’s just a question as to the danger of using this material near a car engine, and if the exact location where this material can be used is hot enough. Also, it has to be worth the money.

  • Arwin

    One correction: NescioNomen, who posted two *posts above me.

    Also, referring to someone’s comment on the first page. I’m pretty sure an internal combustion engine reaches temperatures far greater than ~200 degrees F.

    This technology would not be implemented in such a way to reduce the running temperature of the engine by cooling it, and therefore reducing the engine’s efficiency. It would be use to soak up heat being released to the environment, which is pretty much where all the gasoline’s energy [thats not converted to kinetic energy or lost to frictin] goes anyway. Although a lot of that heat is lost throughout the entire car at various axles and in all moving/electronic components, the heat surrounding the engine can be potentially tapped into. It’s just a question as to the danger of using this material near a car engine, and if the exact location where this material can be used is hot enough. Also, it has to be worth the money.

  • Arwin

    I agree with NescioNomen, who posted two pages behind me.

    Think of solar farms. Hundreds of solar cells in the desert can 1) Be turned to face the sun at all hours of the day (although this hasn’t been done in most places, there are companies looking at a cheap method for it

    2) Have sunlight focused onto them for increased output.

    I wonder what would be the result of using this technology in place of solar panels with the same two modifications I spoke of above. My guess is that it would most likely be possible to heat up the material to that temperature, but would it be cheaper than solar panels to do so?

  • jim sadler

    Thermopiles have been around for many decades. I wonder what size and weight they claim would be needed as well as the financial cost of building a unit such as they describe that is capable of producing any meaningful amount of power. A $3,000 brick that weights 30lbs. that only produces enough power to charge a cell phone would not be attractive to me.

  • NescioNomen

    If this device can really convert heat directly into electricity why use it only on the cars.

    From geothermal energy to steel plants or solar concentrators I can see a lot of possible uses

  • Ulises

    I would like to point out that the technology developed to produce the electricity is not a device but rather a material. All that needs to be done is coat or dope the parts of a device that is in contact with the wasted heat. One would harness the electricity by putting some leads from the material to an energy reservoir or even directly use the generated electricity.

  • Another thing that will help the population generate energy… I hope it works out.

    David

  • John Halleck

    Lots of terms like TWICE AS EFFICIENT as the runner up.

    But nowhere I can find that they give the efficiency.

    (Nor do they state the runner up so that I could actually compute it myself.)

  • Alan

    See this page

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2008/07/high-temperature-thermoelectric-at-zt.html

    for a chart on how zT relates to actual thermal effiency. Basically, “The current commercial best ZT figure of 0.7 meant 5-10% recapture of energy from heat at 200-300 degrees temp difference. 1.5 means 12-18% recapture of energy from heat for 300-600K degree temperature differences.”

  • p mac

    What do those numbers 0.75 and 1.5 mean? Without units, I have no idea. If they are % efficiency, it is terrible.

    The BMW steam engine exhaust cogenerator is already better, at 15%:

    http://www.gizmag.com/go/4936/

  • larryhagedon

    The innovation we are seeing today is awesome. one more way to diversify our energy resources.

    larryhagedon

    American Flex Fuel Experience.

    AmericanFFE-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

  • io

    peletier effect , not new

  • There does seem like a few anomalies which could hinder production and productivity of this device, but it’s certainly the ‘beginnings’ of technological breakthrough.

  • Gasser

    This just might be the answer for Hawaii’s energy consumption, we got none stop super hot volcanic activity.

  • Bryan

    This is great technology!

    For example power produced with coal and nuclear energy uses a steam cycle. After the steam leaves the turbine it needs to be condensed back into water. Huge wast of energy; on the order of %60 total heat into steam cycle goes right on out in the cooling water. Using this material, could increase the output of current power stations by capturing that wast energy, so we have to build less power stations.

    Personally I’d rather have lead where I know it is, and can be easily recycled; rather than carbon dioxide going up the stacks.

  • Bryan

    This is great technology!

    For example power produced with coal and nuclear energy uses a steam cycle. After the steam leaves the turbine it needs to be condensed back into water. Huge wast of energy; on the order of %60 total heat into steam cycle goes right on out in the cooling water. Using this material, could increase the output of current power stations by capturing that wast energy, so we have to build less power stations.

    Personally I’d rather have lead where I know it is, and can be easily recycled; rather than carbon dioxide going up the stacks.

  • Skipper

    Although you are correct in stating lead and thallium are both hazardous substances, such statements need to be considered in proportion to the risk involved.

    More lead is used in one car battery than would be used in a lot of these thermoelectric devices (probably hundreds of the devices).

    Thallium is currently used in the semiconductor industry. Everyone’s cell phone, digital camera, TV, computer, etc. etc. probably has some thallium used for the semiconductors in those devices. Some thallium compounds are more dangerous than others (I don’t know how dangerous the thallium compounds used in this thermoelectric device would be. Some ultra clear glass has thallium in the mix.

  • Kyle

    Oops, missed the thallium doping part. That is a little sketchy. As the article states though, there are other materials and this is an area of active research, so other possibilities are undoubtedly on the horizon.

  • Farran

    I don’t think this device cools the engine, it just uses the excess to create electricity. If the car is running it always produces heat, because anything in motion produces heat. It is a bummer that someone commented these are dangerous metals, I hope there is a way for this technology to be successful without dangerous affects on people and the environment.

  • peter

    Lead, Thallium. We don’t seem to learn from Tetra-Ethyl Lead, CFCs… well, I guess humans don’t deserve to live after all. Idiots.

  • Scott

    Merge this with the new MIT solar dish and you’re in business!

    MIT team plays with fire to create cheap energy

    http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2008/06/18/mit-team-plays-with-fire-to-create-cheap-energy/

    So you could get hot water and electricity from it. The electricity can charge my electric or air powered car. 🙂

  • Scott

    Merge this with the new MIT solar dish and you’re in business!

    MIT team plays with fire to create cheap energy

    http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2008/06/18/mit-team-plays-with-fire-to-create-cheap-energy/

    So you could get hot water and electricity from it. The electricity can charge my electric or air powered car. 🙂

  • Even in engines, you think the heat is wasted, but really, the car engine has to get hot to function properly, such as burning the fuel correctly, a cold engine or cooled by some device extracting the heat, and it’s bad

  • Skipper

    A car’s exhaust manifold typically has temperatures of 500 to 1000 degrees. Sound’s like a good place to put such devices (even if attached to the outside).

  • bradley

    This material is made from some of the most poisonous metals around, manufacturing it in bulk would be a nightmare.

  • bradley

    This material is made from some of the most poisonous metals around, manufacturing it in bulk would be a nightmare.

  • Lummox

    Your car engine runs at 195F (90C). Far too cold for this. Maybe you can get some of that heat from the exhaust, but then you’d be chilling the exhaust that heats your catalytic converter, which would make your emissions worse.

    Almost no industrial power sources have waste heat that hot. You could make a nice steam plant from heat that high.

  • Gustavion

    It’s refreshing to see innovation like this taking hold. We, as consumers, need to support businesses that not only provide a desired utility but also benefit the environment. For example, I came across a website http://www.simplestop.net that stops your postal junk mail and benefits the environment.

Back to Top ↑