23
Fri, Feb

Turning heat into electricity

Typography

What if you could run your air conditioner not on conventional electricity, but on the sun’s heat during a warm summer’s day? With advancements in thermoelectric technology, this sustainable solution might one day become a reality.

What if you could run your air conditioner not on conventional electricity, but on the sun’s heat during a warm summer’s day? With advancements in thermoelectric technology, this sustainable solution might one day become a reality.

Thermoelectric devices are made from materials that can convert a temperature difference into electricity, without requiring any moving parts — a quality that makes thermoelectrics a potentially appealing source of electricity. The phenomenon is reversible: If electricity is applied to a thermoelectric device, it can produce a temperature difference. Today, thermoelectric devices are used for relatively low-power applications, such as powering small sensors along oil pipelines, backing up batteries on space probes, and cooling minifridges.

But scientists are hoping to design more powerful thermoelectric devices that will harvest heat — produced as a byproduct of industrial processes and combustion engines — and turn that otherwise wasted heat into electricity. However, the efficiency of thermoelectric devices, or the amount of energy they are able to produce, is currently limited.

Read more at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Image: MIT researchers, looking for ways to turn heat into electricity, find efficient possibilities in certain topological materials.

CREDIT: Christine Daniloff / MIT