NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Turning Waste Heat into Electricity

November 27, 2001

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a small Utah company, Eneco Inc., say they have developed a technology that can efficiently and inexpensively transform waste heat into electricity. The researchers say their device is in a primitive stage at present, but a cheap and practical device could be ready for the market in two years.

  • While the heat generated by car engines and power plants usually does nothing but warm the surrounding air, scientists have long dreamed of building so-called thermoelectric devices that can capture wasted heat and convert part of it into electric power.
  • Such devices could significantly increase the electrical output of existing power plants or power the electrical systems of automobiles -- replacing alternators and increasing gas mileage.
  • While current thermoelectric technology converts only about 10 percent of the heat it absorbs into electricity, the new device raises that to 17 percent.
  • The laws of physics dictate a maximum of about 50 percent -- and the researchers think future devices might achieve more than half the maximum.

Source: Kenneth Chang, "A Practical Way to Make Power from Wasted Heat," New York Times, November 27, 2001.  


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