High Temp Heat Engine Achieves 40% Efficiency

People generate lots of waste heat. It makes sense that there is a desire to convert that heat into usable energy. The problem is one of efficiency. Researchers from MIT and the National Renewable Energy Lab have announced a new heat converter that they claim has 40% efficiency. Of course, there’s a catch. The temperature range for the devices starts at 1,900 °C .

The thermophotovoltaic cells are tandem devices with two cells mated on one substrate. Each cell is multiple layers of very thin and somewhat exotic materials. So this probably isn’t something you will cobble up in your basement anytime soon unless you’re already manufacturing ICs down there. It appears that the secret is in the multiple layers including a reflective one that sends any missed photons back through the stack.

The paper is pretty dense, but there’s a Sunday-supplement summary over on the MIT site. Using heat storage leads to the ability to make heat batteries, more or less, and harness what would otherwise be waste energy.

We’ve noticed a lot of interest in drawing power from hot pipes lately. All of them techniques we’ve seen rely on some kind of exotic materials.

Ask Hackaday: Is It Time For Waste Heat And Cold Area Heating To Shine?

It’s difficult to escape the topic of energy supply at the moment, with the geopolitical situation surrounding the invasion of Ukraine leaving the natural gas supply to an entire continent in jeopardy. Fortunately we’re watching the green shoots of an early spring here in the Northern hemisphere so the worst of the winter weather is behind us, but industrial customers can take no such solace from the season and will have to weather whatever price hikes are to come. Every alternative idea for energy supply is on the table, and with the parallel imperative of decarbonising the economy this goes beyond the short term into a future without so much need to rely on gas.

The Future is Cloudy

A district heating plant in Vienna, Austria.
A district heating plant in Vienna, Austria. Joadl, CC BY-SA 3.0 AT

A collaboration between a Finnish district heating network and Microsoft caught our eye because the location of a new data centre for the tech giant was chosen specifically to supply waste heat to the network, rather than releasing it to the environment. It’s not uncommon at all for European cities to use district heating networks but they are normally supplied by waste incinerators, boilers, or combined heat and power stations. The use of data centre waste heat is a novelty, as is in particular the siting of the data centre being dictated by the network.
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