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Energy from Waste Heat Using Nanoengines

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Photo credit:  Some rights reserved by EMSL via Flickr

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by EMSL via Flickr

Heat that turns into energy. No, we’re not talking about steam engines and other kinds of large heat-based cycle engines here, were talking about it at a much smaller scale, within the realm of thermoelectricity. There have been numerous design proposals for various kinds of thermoelectric systems these past months and years. However, none of them have yet to reach a level of efficiency that could make its use practical.

Maybe we just need to tweak our perspective a bit about this? We might just need to search for other novel ideas and innovations in the concept, just like this proposal that attempts to use quantum dots as nano-heat engines.

Researchers at the University of Rochester in New York have developed small, microscopic, “nano engines” that are capable of turning generated waste heat into useful electricity. The tiny engines are made from quantum dots (those who are new to the concept may familiarize themselves first here), which allows it to comparatively generate more power than other previously developed heat-based nanoengines.

These tiny engines have no moving parts, so operational longevity would only have to rely on the inherent physical characteristics of the material. Though one quantum dot would only produce a very miniscule amount of power (a millionth of a light bulb’s required energy according to the report), millions of these engines can be used in unison within a layered structure to produce a significant amount of energy.

It is claimed one square inch of these tiny engines is enough to produce a watt of power. A couple of inch-sized harvesters stacked or linked together can significantly boost a computer’s energy supply. But while the concept sounds good in theory, the truth is that the efficiency of the quantum dot engines is largely determined by the temperature difference of the entire “array”.  This means it requires a good amount of insulation to prevent heat from diffusing away, and to maintain the predicted efficiency rates.

Ironically, the quantum dot nanoengines would most likely not provide a break even energy rate when used on “heavier” electronic devices (high-end PC’s come into mind). Even with higher waste heat generated, the energy requirements would probably be too high to compensate. However, it can still vastly reduce overall energy consumption when used correctly, something that is very important when designing closed-cycle self-sufficient alternative systems.

Christian Crisostomo
About Christian Crisostomo (265 Posts)

Christian Crisostomo is just your average tech geek that loves to see man's newest and most recent technological exploits. He holds great interest in the potentials of green technology, and is enthusiastic about the continuous development of environment-friendly alternative energy.


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