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Power Science

Creating Power From Wasted Heat 186

Roland Piquepaille writes "Today, about 90 percent of the world's electricity is created through an indirect and inefficient conversion of heat. It is estimated that two thirds of the heat used by thermoelectric converters are wasted and released. But now, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have found a new way to convert this wasted heat into electricity by trapping organic molecules between metal nanoparticles. So far, this method of creating electricity creation is in its very early stage, but if it can scale up to mass production it may lead to a new and inexpensive source of energy."
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Creating Power From Wasted Heat

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 17, 2007 @08:35PM (#18055908)
    How is this "a new source of power" ? it's just improving efficiency by reducing loss.
  • Um (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 17, 2007 @08:47PM (#18055992)
    From TFA:

    For each degree Celsius of difference, the researchers measured 8.7 microvolts of electricity for benzenedithiol, 12.9 microvolts for dibezenedithiol, and 14.2 microvolts for tribenzenedithiol. The maximum temperature differential tested was 30 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit).
    According to my handy-dandy calculator, that's... 0.426 volts, which isn't much. Am I missing something here? Or are they planning on just massively, massively scaling it up?
  • by Chmcginn ( 201645 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @08:48PM (#18056006) Journal
    But the result would be the same as doubling the number of power plants available, once this technology (supposing it works as advertised) is installed - you'd suddenly be able to halve the number of running generators.
  • by mrcdeckard ( 810717 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @08:53PM (#18056054) Homepage
    we've seen a lot of "new energy" stories on /. today, and there's been a lot of talk in the media lately, too. but NO ONE is talking about conserving energy. of course, this is an american perspective, and self-constraint is unamerican as it gets.

    who cares if we figure out, say, how to meet 10% of our energy needs with new tech when our consumption rises 10% (or more).

    a lot of "new energy" isn't really energy. as others have pointed out, hydrogen, is really just a way to transport energy.

    it occurred to me recently, that, collectively, humans are like any other organism. we cannot control ourselves from the inside (something to do with goedels theorem maybe), and thus we will overrun the planet until we choke on ourselves -- or run out of energy. so i don't worry about it too much.

    oh. whoops. depressing cold day here in st louis today.

    mr c
  • Re:Um (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fordiman ( 689627 ) <fordiman&gmail,com> on Saturday February 17, 2007 @08:54PM (#18056072) Homepage Journal
    Well, there's no mention of current per unit (each, mol, dozen, etc) of each organic oreo, so the voltages are essentially meaningless.
  • by Fordiman ( 689627 ) <fordiman&gmail,com> on Saturday February 17, 2007 @08:57PM (#18056092) Homepage Journal
    That's if, and only if, the efficiency gain is 100% over nominal. They don't say it is.
  • Re:Awesome! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 17, 2007 @09:37PM (#18056336)
    "Global Warming" is only a good thing if you are a politician, or a special interest group receiving tons of money for combatting "Global Warming"

    Note the use of quotes, indicating a ficticious topic.
  • by Chmcginn ( 201645 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @09:41PM (#18056360) Journal
    Computers still are, and probably always will be, a fairly small fraction of electrical consumption. Yeah, data centers are all the way up to 1%... But 1% is 1%. Not a big component... Hell, I'd be more concerned about this [] - if we replace fossil fuel cars with electric in the next fifty years, electric power used to recharge vehicles will probably become one of the biggest fractions of the total load.
  • by Doppler00 ( 534739 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:30PM (#18056610) Homepage Journal
    LED light bulbs are overrated. Compact florescent bulbs are much more efficient, but they aren't a sexy as LED's. Here's some ways to conserve, but no one will do this:

    1. No more incandescent bulbs.
    2. Live 10 minutes away from work in a condo/apartment instead of the suburbs in a giant house
    3. Stop leaving your computer on all day

    Actually, #2 is about the only one that really saves the most money. Smaller places cost less to heat/cool, and not driving as much saves a huge amount of energy.

    But, oh environmentalists are more concerned about prohibiting housing developments or zoning that actually makes sense.
  • by zogger ( 617870 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:57PM (#18056748) Homepage Journal
    ...water pollution. Nothing. Zero. It took serious government regulations in a lot of directions at the federal, state and local level and mass civil indignation to do that, because the "market" ALL found it cheaper-better for their "shareholder value and bottom line"- to just dump their toxic waste wherever they felt like it and to transfer health care costs to -anyplace else, downstream usually.

      Ya, maybe if we had waited say a few hundred years it might have "corrected", as the remaining few non mutants rose up finally and bumped off the remaining few mass polluters who were left, but for some reason society decided to step in with some stricter laws before it got that bad.

    I could name numerous other examples but that is an easily seen one.

    Sometimes you just can't wait for the "this quarter's profits" mentality boys to do the right thing. Some things might need to be addressed now, once they are clearly understood to either be a problem now or soon will be, as opposed to waiting around for a long time in an economic and social experiment to see what might happen. And believe it or nuts, there are more important things on this Earth than some corporation's bank balance.

    That is not to say that government can't be hugely overbearing and infested with generic mass stoopidity itself,of course it is,I speak out about government abuses all the time, but "the market" is no better really, neither extreme -leave it all to the market (caveat-emptor brand corporatism would be the extreme there) or all to the government(cult of the personality one leader-one party-mass bureaucracy and no one even wants to work any longer except under the whip"- ism government would be the extreme that other way)- is the end all or be all of "solutions". I think what we have more or less constructed- at least semi-regulated markets and at least an attempt at a semi-regulated society via this government thing-is probably the best humans can do at our (barely out of the medieval level intellectually or psychologically) evolutionary stage.

    Of the two extremes and the middle, the middle is what we mostly have and falls under the lesser of the three big evils choices. It is imperfect, absolutely no doubt there, but the best we can do right now. What we can do is to keep chipping away at the imperfections on a case by case basis.
  • by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @11:34PM (#18056906)
    "But the common man doesn't understand 'efficiency gains' as something significant."

    Yeah, they insulate their houses to save on energy bills just 'cause.
  • by jbengt ( 874751 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @11:48PM (#18056948)
    It's not a more efficient thermal cycle or a more efficient dynamo. It is a new source of power - waste heat. OK, waste heat has been used before, usually for direct heating, but not for this kind of electricity production in utility power plants.
  • Re:Not a big deal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mafiew ( 620133 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @12:58AM (#18057266)
    Thank you for a post that actually talks about some thermodynamic principles. Tapping into "waste" heat does seem like an attractive idea to people who do not have an understanding of thermodynamics. My understanding is that if you try to simply strap on another heat engine like a thermocouple, you're working with a very low temperature differential which means low efficiency.

    One question though. Isn't a gas turbine just another heat engine that that is governmed by the limits of any thermodynamic cycle? So would a "combined cycle" be two heat engines connected to each other? Unfortuantely my understanding of thermo is limited to one undergraduate class.
  • by amRadioHed ( 463061 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @01:36AM (#18057482)
    I think he means there is a difference between understanding it's a waste when the heat you are paying for is going out the window, there is a very direct cost. It's less likely for people to think that the heat coming out of the back of their vacuum cleaner is also wasted energy. Electrical appliances get hot when they run, right? Nothing unusual about that.

Trap full -- please empty.