Arizona physicists discover new way of turning waste heat into electricity

University of Arizona physicists have discovered a new way of harvesting waste heat and turning it into electrical power.

The research group led by Charles Stafford, associate professor of physics, published its findings in the September issue of the scientific journal, ACS Nano. Using a theoretical model of a so-called molecular thermoelectric device, the technology is said to hold great promise for enabling cars, power plants, factories, solar panels and so forth to be more efficient. In addition, more efficient thermoelectric materials would make ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, obsolete.

“Thermoelectricity makes it possible to cleanly convert heat directly into electrical energy in a device with no moving parts,” said lead author Justin Bergfield, a doctoral candidate in the UA College of Optical Sciences.

Unlike existing heat-conversion devices such as refrigerators and steam turbines, the devices of Bergfield and Stafford require no mechanics and no ozone-depleting chemicals. Instead, a rubber-like polymer sandwiched between two metals acting as electrodes can do the trick. Car or factory exhaust pipes could be coated with the material, less than 1 millionth of an inch thick, to harvest energy otherwise lost as heat and generate electricity according to the researchers.

Their energy saving invention is currently only a simulation, but the team say they have been assured that nothing in their virtual version would be impossible to reproduce in the real world.

This technology sounds promising on paper, but no prototype has yet been built. It would be interesting to discover when they are going to develop it further and what the production costs and efficiency will be.

If you are interested in learning more about the technology, click here:


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