Devices That Convert Heat Into Electricity One Step Closer to Reality

Devices That Convert Heat Into Electricity One Step Closer to Reality
January 16, 2017 | Source: Phys Org, phys.org

The same researchers who pioneered the use of a quantum mechanical effect to convert heat into electricity have figured out how to make their technique work in a form more suitable to industry.

In Nature Communications, engineers from The Ohio State University describe how they used magnetism on a composite of nickel and platinum to amplify the voltage output 10 times or more—not in a thin film, as they had done previously, but in a thicker piece of material that more closely resembles components for future electronic devices.

Many electrical and mechanical devices, such as car engines, produce heat as a byproduct of their normal operation. It's called "waste heat," and its existence is required by the fundamental laws of thermodynamics, explained study co-author Stephen Boona.

But a growing area of research called solid-state thermoelectrics aims to capture that waste heat inside specially designed materials to generate power and increase overall energy efficiency.

"Over half of the energy we use is wasted and enters the atmosphere as heat," said Boona, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State. "Solid-state thermoelectrics can help us recover some of that energy. These devices have no moving parts, don't wear out, are robust and require no maintenance. Unfortunately, to date, they are also too expensive and not quite efficient enough to warrant widespread use. We're working to change that."