Prototype demonstrates success of advanced new energy technology

Jun 10, 2011
This prototype of a "thermal activated cooling system" has been developed by engineers at Oregon State University, and promises important new advances in energy efficiency by using wasted heat. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

With the completion of a successful prototype, engineers at Oregon State University have made a major step toward addressing one of the leading problems in energy use around the world today – the waste of half or more of the energy produced by cars, factories and power plants.

New is being developed at OSU to 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.

The potential cost savings, improved energy efficiency and broad application of such technology is enormous, experts say. The new systems now being perfected at OSU should be able to use much of that waste heat either in cooling or the production of electricity.

A prototype device has been finished to demonstrate the efficacy of this technology, and the findings just published in Applied Thermal Engineering, a professional journal.

"This could become a very important new energy source and way to improve energy efficiency," said Hailei Wang, a research associate in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU. "The prototype shows that these systems work as well as we expected they would."

More than half of the heat generated by industrial activities is now wasted, Wang said, and even very advanced electrical power plants only convert about 40 percent of the energy produced into electricity. The internal combustion engines of automobiles are even worse – they generally operate around 25-40 percent conversion efficiency. The very function of an automobile radiator is to dissipate wasted heat.

Various approaches have been attempted, and are sometimes used, to capture and use at least some of that waste heat to produce cooling. The new system being developed at OSU may do that as, or more efficiently than past approaches, be more portable, and also have one major advantage – the ability to also produce electricity.

It's called 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.

The new prototype completed at OSU succeeded in turning 80 percent of every kilowatt of waste heat into a kilowatt of cooling capability. Researchers say the conversion efficiency wouldn't be nearly as high if the goal is to produce electricity – about 15-20 percent – but it's still much better than the current approach, which is to waste the energy potential of all of the heat.

"This technology would be especially useful if there's a need to have cooling systems where heat is being wasted," Wang said. "That's one reason the research has been supported by the Department of Defense, because they see it being used to provide needed air conditioning for electronics and other purposes when they are using generators in the field."

However, the OSU scientists said that may be just the beginning. Factories often produce enormous amounts of wasted heat in their operations. The systems could also be incorporated into alternative energy technologies such as solar or geothermal, scientists say, in addition to fossil fuel use.

Conceptually, it should also be possible for such systems to be used in hybrid automotive technology, taking waste heat from the gasoline engine and using it not only for air conditioning but also to help recharge the battery that powers the vehicle, Wang said.

Continued research will be needed to perfect the technology and adapt it to different uses, the scientists said.

The work takes advantage of OSU's advanced programs in microchannel technology, a key focus of the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute operated by OSU and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This study was co-authored by Rich Peterson, an OSU professor of mechanical engineering, expert in thermal sciences and energy systems, and associate director of the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute.

"There continues to be significant potential for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission by improving overall energy efficiency for various systems," the scientists said in their study. "One route toward satisfying both paths is to develop technology able to recover that would be otherwise rejected to the atmosphere without usage."

Explore further: Stanford aims to bring player pianos back to life

More information: ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/handle/1957/21679

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User comments : 17

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krundoloss
2.5 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2011
So, I just have to ask, is there such a material that can directly turn heat into electricity directly. We need that! That way we can slap the stuff everywhere, we can make a hybrid car with a Lawnmower engine, capture ALL the energy it produces, both mechanically and thermally, and move towards a much more efficient world. It just kills me that ICE cars only use about 20-30 % of the energy contained in gasoline.

BTW, cant you just slap a sterling engine to the radiator and produce power from the heat that way?
d_robison
2.8 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2011
So, I just have to ask, is there such a material that can directly turn heat into electricity directly. We need that!...
BTW, cant you just slap a sterling engine to the radiator and produce power from the heat that way?


Unfortunately, you can't directly turn heat into electricity efficiently. You can, however, use heat to generate electricity indirectly, in fact this is the basis for almost all forms of energy production (nuclear power plants use fission to heat up water and create steam, which then turns a turbine which powers a generator, etc.) and the same process applies to coal, etc.

So, unfortunately, you have to create a Ruth Goldberg machine to go from heat to electricity. There are other ways of using excess heat (as described in this article and several others) to create more efficient systems.
Bob_Kob
2 / 5 (2) Jun 10, 2011
Its called a thermocouple. But like with everything in this damn universe theres no free lunch so thermodynamics screws it up etc
d_robison
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 10, 2011
Its called a thermocouple. But like with everything in this damn universe theres no free lunch so thermodynamics screws it up etc


True, but the output is extremely small (even when connected with several other thermocouples to make a "thermopile") usually measured in the millivolt range. They are mainly used in measuring devices, or lower mass, far-reaching satellites, where the temperature difference between the two sides of the thermocouple are extreme. The amount of electricity produced is proportional to the temperature difference.
wiechers_jens
3.3 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2011
The new prototype completed at OSU succeeded in turning 80 percent of every kilowatt of waste heat into a kilowatt of cooling capability


That phrase is a bit awkward, unless someone has found a way to befuddle the arbitors of reality and trick thermodynamics. ;-)

I suspect that what was meant is that from each kW of waste energy, .8 kW can be "recovered" via that prototype?
d_robison
not rated yet Jun 10, 2011
The new prototype completed at OSU succeeded in turning 80 percent of every kilowatt of waste heat into a kilowatt of cooling capability


That phrase is a bit awkward, unless someone has found a way to befuddle the arbitors of reality and trick thermodynamics. ;-)

I suspect that what was meant is that from each kW of waste energy, .8 kW can be "recovered" via that prototype?


Good catch, that should be corrected.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2011
So, I just have to ask, is there such a material that can directly turn heat into electricity directly. We need that!
Indeed we do, and theyre working on it. Here are just 2 of various physorg articles:
http://www.physor...ser.html
http://www.physor...tor.html
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2011
Heres a good one:
http://www.physor...als.html

-I like the possibility of sucking heat out of the air directly for air conditioning.
jselin
1.5 / 5 (2) Jun 10, 2011
True, but the output is extremely small (even when connected with several other thermocouples to make a "thermopile") usually measured in the millivolt range. They are mainly used in measuring devices, or lower mass, far-reaching satellites, where the temperature difference between the two sides of the thermocouple are extreme. The amount of electricity produced is proportional to the temperature difference.


There is no difference between a thermocouple and a thermoelectric generator. In the case of the TEG, its been engineered to maximized power output. So Krundoloss the answer is yes there is such a material but practical limitations make its implementation limited to special applications such as deep space probes. A great deal of research money is going into improving this class of materials to address the same needs mentioned in this article.
djr
not rated yet Jun 10, 2011
When I leave my garden hose out in the sun - the water in it gets red hot. Leaves me wondering - if I put enough length of hose out in my front yard - and circulate the water through this device - could I run my a/c?? What about big parking lots at businesses - build an overhead system with black pipes and a black deck. What about the roofs of building like malls - and factories?? sounds interesting..
DGBEACH
3 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2011
If anything I suppose articles like these get us thinking about how inefficient the world we've created around us really is. You wonder though whether it wasn't made that way purposely...does big oil REALLY want us to be more energy efficient?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2011
When I leave my garden hose out in the sun - the water in it gets red hot. Leaves me wondering - if I put enough length of hose out in my front yard - and circulate the water through this device - could I run my a/c?? What about big parking lots at businesses - build an overhead system with black pipes and a black deck. What about the roofs of building like malls - and factories?? sounds interesting..
You are making little joke no? Solar thermal tech is old old. Here is a new twist:
http://www.scipub...-624.pdf
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (4) Jun 11, 2011
"You wonder though whether it wasn't made that way purposely...does big oil REALLY want us to be more energy efficient?"
On a plane to British Columbia, I sat next to an engineer who
worked for a Canadian petroleum company. After a couple of scotches, he told me about his friend in Saudi Arabia who had gotten 80 mpg's from his Ford pickup truck. He then sheepishly admitted that the jet engine , like the one outside our window, was designed to be inefficient. That was in 1976.
Wulfgar
5 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2011
d robinson:

I like the reference to Ruth Goldberg. Her machines were always more practical than those of her better known husband, Rube Goldberg. LOL.
d_robison
not rated yet Jun 13, 2011
d robinson:

I like the reference to Ruth Goldberg. Her machines were always more practical than those of her better known husband, Rube Goldberg. LOL.


Haha yeah I meant Rube, I have no idea why I put Ruth, his wife was named Irma.
poof
not rated yet Jun 18, 2011
"You wonder though whether it wasn't made that way purposely...does big oil REALLY want us to be more energy efficient?"
On a plane to British Columbia, I sat next to an engineer who
worked for a Canadian petroleum company. After a couple of scotches, he told me about his friend in Saudi Arabia who had gotten 80 mpg's from his Ford pickup truck. He then sheepishly admitted that the jet engine , like the one outside our window, was designed to be inefficient. That was in 1976.


yeah i herd the illuminati put a little device in every engine that reduces its efficiency from 200% to just 20%.
FroShow
not rated yet Jun 19, 2011
The new prototype completed at OSU succeeded in turning 80 percent of every kilowatt of waste heat into a kilowatt of cooling capability


Yeah, it's confusing. Here's how I understand it:
System1: the process that generates waste heat
System2: the prototype described in this article
System3: another process that requires cooling
System4: the environment
...
System1 would normally dump 1kw of waste heat to System4;
System2 is placed between System1 and System4;
System1 dumps 0.2kw to System4;
System2 uses 0.8kw to move 1kw from System3 to System4;
System2 still dumps 0.8kw to System4.

Think of it like a heat pump. No energy is created, just redirected to produce additional useful work.

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