Like a child who piles too much food onto his plate only to end up eating less than half of it, automobiles, chemical plants, and even solar cell plants are guilty of wasting much of the energy that they generate. Intent on devising an efficient solution to such waste is Dr. Ray Baughman, director of the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute, who collaborated with an international team of researchers on one method of reducing such waste: using thermocells based on carbon nanotube electrodes to generate electrical energy from heat discarded by the aforementioned sources.
According to the University of Texas at Dallas, the thermocells using nanotube electrodes provided a threefold increase in energy conversion efficiency as compared to conventional electrodes. Such an efficient method of harvesting wasted thermal energy could create local sources of clean energy that could subsequently lower costs and reduce the footprint of an organization found to wasting energy, such as industrial plants. Resembling the button-sized battery used to power most watches, the thermocells differentiate themselves from batteries by continually generating electricity rather than consistently losing energy. According to PhysOrg, other types of thermocells, such as larger, electrolyte-filled, textile-separated nanotube sheets that can be wrapped around pipes, were also examined.
In the study, which was published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Nano Letters, Dr. Baughman and his fellow researchers estimated “that multi-walled carbon nanotubes in large thermocells could eventually produce power at a cost of about $2.76 per watt from freely available waste energy, compared with a cost of $4.31 per watt for solar cells, which can only be used when the sun is shining.” The smaller thermocells that resemble watch batteries could be used to power censors or various electronic circuits.