Clean Energy Sourced From Waste Heat

MIT might be close to developing its artificial solar leaf, but Oregon State University (OSU) researchers believe they’ve developed new technology that address a so-called leading issue in energy use around the world today – the waste of half or more of the energy produced by cars, factories and power plants. This technology, which is currently in prototype device format, reportedly will “capture and use the low-to-medium grade waste heat that’s now going out the exhaust pipe of millions of automobiles, diesel generators, or being wasted by factories and electrical utilities.”

OSU research associate Hailei Wang of the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering said that with more than half of the heat generated by industrial activities being wasted and internal combustion engines of automobiles generally operating around 25-40 percent conversion efficiency, opportunities exist for the university developed technology to make a difference in its ability to put this waste to use in clean energy generation.

image via OSU

The prototype is described, according to OSU, as “a ‘thermally activated cooling system’ that gains much of its efficiency by using extraordinarily small microchannels which help to better meet the performance, size and weight challenges. It effectively combines a vapor compression cycle with an ‘organic Rankine cycle,’ an existing energy conversion technology.”

Work with the prototype looks to have produced very promising results, with Wang reporting it succeeded in turning 80 percent of every kilowatt of waste heat into a kilowatt of cooling capability. This is tempered somewhat though because the conversion efficiency wouldn’t be nearly as high if the goal is to produce electricity. Still, it is reportedly better technology than what is currently out there.

Continued research, like is so often the case in announcements like this, is needed still to “perfect the technology and adapt it to different uses.”

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I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.

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