New multiferroic alloy creates electricity from waste heat

From the University of Minnesota via Eurkealert today, this looks interesting:

University of Minnesota engineering researchers discover source for generating ‘green’ electricity

Figure 2. Schematic (a) and actual (b) views of the demonstration. C, coil; R, heat source; S, specimen of Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10; M, permanent magnet with direction of magnetization indicated; T, thermocouple; V, voltmeter.

 

University of Minnesota engineering researchers in the College of Science and Engineering have recently discovered a new alloy material that converts heat directly into electricity. This revolutionary energy conversion method is in the early stages of development, but it could have wide-sweeping impact on creating environmentally friendly electricity from waste heat sources.

Researchers say the material could potentially be used to capture waste heat from a car’s exhaust that would heat the material and produce electricity for charging the battery in a hybrid car. Other possible future uses include capturing rejected heat from industrial and power plants or temperature differences in the ocean to create electricity. The research team is looking into possible commercialization of the technology.

“This research is very promising because it presents an entirely new method for energy conversion that’s never been done before,” said University of Minnesota aerospace engineering and mechanics professor Richard James, who led the research team.”It’s also the ultimate ‘green’ way to create electricity because it uses waste heat to create electricity with no carbon dioxide.”

To create the material, the research team combined elements at the atomic level to create a new multiferroic alloy, Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10. Multiferroic materials combine unusual elastic, magnetic and electric properties. The alloy Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10 achieves multiferroism by undergoing a highly reversible phase transformation where one solid turns into another solid. During this phase transformation the alloy undergoes changes in its magnetic properties that are exploited in the energy conversion device.

During a small-scale demonstration in a University of Minnesota lab, the new material created by the researchers begins as a non-magnetic material, then suddenly becomes strongly magnetic when the temperature is raised a small amount. When this happens, the material absorbs heat and spontaneously produces electricity in a surrounding coil. Some of this heat energy is lost in a process called hysteresis. A critical discovery of the team is a systematic way to minimize hysteresis in phase transformations. The team’s research was recently published in the first issue of the new scientific journal Advanced Energy Materials.

Watch a short research video of the new material suddenly become magnetic when heated: http://z.umn.edu/conversionvideo

In addition to Professor James, other members of the research team include University of Minnesota aerospace engineering and mechanics post-doctoral researchers Vijay Srivastava and Kanwal Bhatti, and Ph.D. student Yintao Song. The team is also working with University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science professor Christopher Leighton to create a thin film of the material that could be used, for example, to convert some of the waste heat from computers into electricity.

“This research crosses all boundaries of science and engineering,” James said. “It includes engineering, physics, materials, chemistry, mathematics and more. It has required all of us within the university’s College of Science and Engineering to work together to think in new ways.”

###

Funding for early research on the alloy came from a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research (involving other universities including the California Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, University of Washington and University of Maryland), and research grants from the U.S. Air Force and the National Science Foundation. The research is also tentatively funded by a small seed grant from the University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

For more detail on the research, read the entire paper published in Advanced Energy Materials at http://z.umn.edu/energyalloy.

The Direct Conversion of Heat to Electricity Using Multiferroic Alloys

Vijay Srivastava1, Yintao Song1, Kanwal Bhatti1,2, R. D. James1,*

Abstract

We demonstrate a new method for the direct conversion of heat to electricity using the recently discovered multiferroic alloy, Ni45Co5Mn40Sn101. This alloy undergoes a low hysteresis, reversible martensitic phase transformation from a nonmagnetic martensite phase to a strongly ferromagnetic austenite phase upon heating. When biased by a suitably placed permanent magnet, heating through the phase transformation causes a sudden increase of the magnetic moment to a large value. As a consequence of Faraday’s law of induction, this drives a current in a surrounding circuit. Theory predicts that under optimal conditions the performance compares favorably with the best thermoelectrics. Because of the low hysteresis of the alloy, a promising area of application of this concept appears to be energy conversion at small ΔT, suggesting a possible route to the conversion of the vast amounts of energy stored on earth at small temperature difference. We postulate other new methods for the direct conversion of heat to electricity suggested by the underlying theory.

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136 thoughts on “New multiferroic alloy creates electricity from waste heat

  1. temperature differences in the ocean
    when the temperature is raised a small amount
    =====================================================
    Wouldn’t the most obvious be to just put it out in the sun?
    ..what am I missing here?

  2. So stick 2 or 300 in the smokestacks of factories, the cooling towers and pools of nuclear power plants, and the steam pipes of co-generation plants. Or for matter, line hot water heaters with them. My previous house had 2 90 gallon water heaters and a recirculating pump, if I’d had these lining my hot water pipes…….

  3. Great to read about worthwhile research. Compare this to wasted investment on the Mann sea-level study reported on yesterday

  4. I agree this is interesting. My PhD in the 1970′s was in the metallurgy of these types of phase transformation and my first proper job was to try to make a low temperature differential mechanical heat engine using the odd mechanical behavour of these shape memory alloys (I still have the bits in the shed). Direct power generation may be a much better use for this wonderful solid state phase transformation. Thanks Anthony for bringing this to our attention. DaveS

  5. First, you can’t just convert heat into electricity, you can only exploit temperature *differences*. And secondly, if you’re talking about temperature differences, there are already lots of devices for doing that. The Peltier effect used in thermocouples turns heat into electricity.

    Keep an eye on the 2nd law.

  6. seems like a new form of thermoelectric … not more efficient it appears … so if its not cheaper I wonder if it has a role to play …

    and as fas as using it in a computer … that whole magnetic field thingy is not going to be appreciated by your computer …

    I would point out the material doesn’t create electricity … it generates a magnetic field which requires coils to generate electricity …

  7. From what I understand, it’s not that it just requires heat, it requires heat that oscillates around the transition temperature. Think of it as magnet moving through a coil of wire.

    It would be nice to know what amount of energy is produced.

  8. @DaveS

    Exactly what popped into my mind. Many larger commercial data centers take the outside mains power, rectify it to high current DC, apply that DC across a bank of wet cell batteries and then regenerate AC power for distribution inside the facility. Should mains power fail, the batteries allow time for diesel generators to come online and provide power without interrupting power to the load. The load basically never senses a change in applied power. The ideal place to use these would be in application of DC across that battery bank. That would slightly decrease the load on the mains or the generators and unlike solar, it would work 24×7. In addition, the heat load in the building is directly proportional to electricity consumed. Every watt brought into a data center in the form of electricity must be eliminated in the form of heat. Often the air handling capacity of a data center is the limiting factor on the amount of power they can bring in to power computers. Being able to convert this heat back into electricity would be a major win but I am guessing it would be several years before this could be applied at a cost-effective scale in a data center.

    One thing that has also crossed my mind is why these large data centers don’t use PV panels. Many of them have large flat roofs. Placing panels in places like California and Arizona where summers are hot and sunshine is abundant would provide two benefits; it could add additional power on the DC bus across the batteries and shade the roof reducing climate control load at the same time.

  9. The nonsensical untestable quasi-religious theorizing (Big Bang, Global Warming, Dark Matter) gets all the Nobels, but all the real scientific innovation is in Materials Science.

  10. From the lonely corner of the scientifically unschooled, would this contraption be economical for direct electricity generation with conventional fuels? The stress on waste heat hints…to me, at least…that the thing is not economical, but then again, it could be that the “green” angle was included to satisfy the jealous and angry gods of environmentalism at the EPA.

  11. Latitude says:
    June 22, 2011 at 10:53 am

    temperature differences in the ocean
    when the temperature is raised a small amount
    =====================================================
    Wouldn’t the most obvious be to just put it out in the sun?
    ..what am I missing here?

    It’s not the sun it’s CO2. You have tleave it out in the CO2

  12. By the time I struggled to spell Peltier, I find several replies saying exactly what I was going to say.

    It is not a thermoelectric invention, It is using the change in magnetic field to induce an emf in a surrounding coil.

    E = -N. deltaThi / deltat where N =number of turns, Thi = flux density and t = rate of change of flux If I remember my generator theory.

    If the rate of flux change is proportional to the heating / cooling cycle rate, then unless the material is very finely divided, the rate of change of temp and thus flux will be very slow and the resulting emf will be a gnats whisker of very little.

    cheers

    P

  13. Nullius in Verba says:
    June 22, 2011 at 11:03 am
    First, you can’t just convert heat into electricity, you can only exploit temperature *differences*. And secondly, if you’re talking about temperature differences, there are already lots of devices for doing that. The Peltier effect used in thermocouples turns heat into electricity.

    The Peltiers available for TEG (thermo-electric generation) use a Tin/Bismuth solder which melts at around 250C. OK if your application has steady controlled temperature, but a bit fragile for more ‘ad hoc’ situations. I’ve been messing with Peltiers to run forced induction fans in my lightweight wood fired cookstove designs.

    This material looks more robust, but would need some kind of mechanical intervention to move a heat shield. That will soak up a percentage of the power, although the might be other ways to achieve the desired effect, like periodically water misting the unit with a gravity fed system.

    One for mad inventorators to keep an eye on.

  14. This is a more complicated variation on a thermopile, with the efficiency reduced due to the inefficiencies of converting through an electromagnetic induction step.
    In any case the thermodynamic efficiency (n) is limited by the temperature difference (T-hot, T-cold) and basic thermodynamics: n <= 1 – T-cold / T-hot.
    Given this gadget requires some expensive materials (nickel, cobalt, manganese, tin), it is unlikely to be cost-effective on a production scale.

  15. Who wants to be the one to break it to Paul Erlich that the idiot children of the world are about to be given a whole slew of machine guns?

    I’ll volunteer – I’d love to see his reaction to this news.

  16. This looks to be an interesting material but I am not quite so sure of its efficacy in generating useful amounts of electricity. The amount of electricity generated depends on how much the magnetism changes. When it stops changing then no more electricity is produced.

    So looking at their fig 1. it would seem that in a car exhaust you would get a low-level double-sided pulse of electricity when the engine warmed and a similar one at the end of the journey when the exhaust cooled.

    If it could heat and cool 50 or 60 times a second then we might have something.

  17. Tom Davidson says: June 22, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Given this gadget requires some expensive materials (nickel, cobalt, manganese, tin), it is unlikely to be cost-effective on a production scale.

    I would doubt that it could be more expensive than a wind turbine. Especially when compared on a cost per generated watt basis.

  18. It sounds like you need an oscillating heat source, not easy to manage. Constant heat source with cooling water pulses might work but to make it efficient, it would need to be thin film which complicates the heat application. I am sure there will be niches for this technology but we already have Peltier junctions and using them to exploit waste heat is not a good ROI.
    Neat toy but I wouldn’t invest a nickle in it.

  19. The efficiency of such device must be pretty low considering that it is an indirect method to generate electricity. Organic Rankin Cycles (ORC) engines are already much more efficient and already on market.

    There is also the work of Dr. Victor Klimov which I put in the Tips and notes some time ago. Apparently he is much closer to being able to make commercial systems. Here it is again;

    May 19, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Anthony,

    Have you ever heard of Dr. Victor Klimov at Los Alamos National Laboratory? Apparently he has found a way to get free energy from the vaccum and his work has been proven and published.

    http://www.cheniere.org/correspondence/042011.htm

    http://peswiki.com/index.php/Site:LRP:Victor_I._Klimov_-_%22Energy_From_The_Vacuum%22_-_Verification

    http://quantumdot.lanl.gov/

    http://dimensionalbliss.com/2011/05/02/victor-klimov-free-energy-system-100-proven/

  20. @Tom Davidson,

    Expensive materials? All those materials are incredibly inexpensive, especially compared to any rare earths as are used in batteries. So, I’m not sure what you mean. It’s likely to be extremely cost effective on a production scale.

    From the sounds of it, it could be quite an efficiency booster, but itself cannot be an energy producer. It’ll just capture waste to increase efficiency of the actual producer.

  21. One question I have is what do they define as “…when the temperature is raised a small amount”?

    Small amount to me is a degree or two or less. Is this a scientific “small amount” based on a small percentage of the whole Kelvin temperature scale, or on the “solar furnace” scale where “what’s a couple thousand degrees between friends” would be a small amount?

    Also do these materials, once the temperature change occurs, flip back into their equilibrium state if the temperature stabilizes at the higher value? Does it require constant fluctuation, as one other commenter suggested? There are a whole raft of questions that come to mind when put to the lens of pragmatic application.

    OK, I just read the whole article, skimming by the math and unfamiliar materials terms. So the sample was 3 grams, the temperature that transition took place was around 275C, and they tracked a 0.6mV pulse. As a proof of concept, that’s pretty nifty, and at reasonable temperatures. Reading how the material was made, showed that this is a rather esoteric material; this brings to mind the question of mass production. Will the voltage output scale up with the mass of the material in a reasonable fashion. They touch on the shape of the material having some bearing on its properties, as well.

    As I said, this is a really nifty development. Boy, do they have a whole lot of work to do! Get on it guys! I want cheap electricity. :)

  22. Gosh, this is why I love this site…… I’m reading this paper getting all excited about our new-found device that could revolutionize the green revolution!!!!!!

    I continue reading…..nagging voice inside my head starts….. I’m reading …… starting to look as some of it as not nearly as cool as I was hoping…… reading ….nagging voice gets louder…… realizing magnetic fields are energy forms…. realizing it takes a bit of energy to set up the scenario the papers assumes…..nagging voice says “go back to WUWT and click refresh….”…… OIC, some are a bit quicker than me…. :-|
    Hopefully they can do some refinements and find a niche to where it could add to the efficiency of something in a cost effective manner.

  23. Once it heats up and becomes magnetic, no more electricity! It needs a means to cycle the heating from the exhaust pipe and that means moving parts or similar complexity. The same damn thing would generate electricity based on the much more common and much cheaper fact that most magnets lose instead of gain magnetism when heated. But I guess they are adding a phase change to the mix to make it more abrupt, so that may be an advantage. I’m a bit confused though (being a chemist not a physicist). How does the solid know in which direction to magnetize? And why does it not in fact magnetize in opposing domains that cancel each other out macroscopically? Do they use another magnet underneath it? Answer: yes! That’s in the diagram. So really, this is a heat reversible magnetism blocker. Fine. Uh oh…equations involving the speed of light ensue, with a reference to Tesla. Wait, Tesla patented my suggestion ago!

    “This invention is an improved form of electrical generator based upon the following well-known laws: First, that electricity or electrical energy is developed in any conducting-body by subjecting such body to a varying magnetic influence, and, second, that the magnetic properties of iron or other magnetic substance may be partially or entirely destroyed or caused to disappear by raising it to a certain temperature, but restored and caused to reappear by again lowering its temperature to a certain degree. These laws may be applied in the production of electrical currents in many ways, the principle of which is in all cases the same—viz., to subject a conductor to a varying magnetic influence, producing such variations by the application of heat, or, more strictly speaking, by the application or action of a varying temperature upon the source of the magnetism.” – Nikola Tesla, 1890, Patent 428,057.

    http://www.teslauniverse.com/nikola-tesla-patents-428,057-pyromagneto-electric-generator

    -=NikFromNYC=- Ph.D. (genetics/organometallic/organic/materials/fabrication, Columbia/Harvard/MIT)

  24. Sorry. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says this won’t work. I would venture to guess this is short lived and would dissipate before generating or converting enough energy to be useful. We shall see but very interesting that we might see a perpetual motion machine. I’m sure the result will be millions of DOE dollars to study this.

  25. Latitude says:

    June 22, 2011 at 10:53 am

    “temperature differences in the ocean
    when the temperature is raised a small amount
    =====================================================
    Wouldn’t the most obvious be to just put it out in the sun?
    ..what am I missing here?”

    It is not using heat, it is using a change in temperature to generate the magnetism (which can generate electricity). It appears that to make this work they would have to alternately heat and cool the device much as a generator coil moves in a magnetic field. The problem becomes how to move the device in and out of a hot environment without using more energy than is produced.

  26. Ummm Okay. Sounds great, but how much electricity?

    Would be great for a regular IC car, not just a hybrid, removove parasitic draw on the engine, gain efficiency, you’ve got loads of heat to spare. But if all it’s going to do is power the map light for 30 minutes, who cares. If it will power the radio and the AC maybe even power steering etc, great.

  27. This sounds like it could eventually find some applications in a heat exchanger for an existing design power plant or manufacturing plant, but you would need some way to pulse or oscillate the cooling, which would be bad for the HX. In any event improving existing processes, or using wasted energy from energy entensive heavy industries isn’t “cool” green energy. Disregard, build more Chinese manufactured windmills.

  28. We have lots of waste heat in my plant. We looked at putting in a low pressure steam generator to use up the leftover 450 pound and 40 pound steam but the investment was significant and the regulations in California were a hinderence. In the end, the transmission lines are already overloaded and we limit production in our primary generators because we are pushing against the grid as hard as the transmission lines will allow already.

    I am absolutely sure we would not be intesested in this technology even though we probably have megawatts of free heat.

  29. Awesome, but has anyone heard what the efficiency is? I know most thermalcouples today are fairly low, like 20 or 40% conversion. Hence RTGs in satelites emit 1kw of heat and only get 200w of electricity in return. If they can up that to 50% or even 80% then WOW!. I’d say drop RTGs in neighborhoods.

  30. Kelvin Vaughan says:
    June 22, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Latitude says:
    June 22, 2011 at 10:53 am

    temperature differences in the ocean
    when the temperature is raised a small amount
    =====================================================
    Wouldn’t the most obvious be to just put it out in the sun?
    ..what am I missing here?

    It’s not the sun it’s CO2. You have tleave it out in the CO2

    Can’t they just soak it in CO2 then the thing will obviously generate its own heat, which it converts into electricity and presto, it runs by itself. At least that’s how a combination of AGW theory and materials research should work.
    /sarc off.

  31. Ray says:
    June 22, 2011 at 11:57 am
    “Have you ever heard of Dr. Victor Klimov at Los Alamos National Laboratory? Apparently he has found a way to get free energy from the vaccum and his work has been proven and published.”

    This free-energy-from-the-vacuum/from-parallel-universes is maybe not very helpful. Klimov tries to exploit carrier multiplication; the wikipedia has an article about it, why one wants it, and by how much it might increase the efficiency of photovoltaics. (Hint: not to over-unity. The Laws apply.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrier_multiplication

  32. Patrick Keane, June 22, 2011 says:
    “. . . the rate of change of temp and thus flux will be very slow and the resulting emf will be a gnats whisker of very little.”

    Exactly. This is a relatively minor effect as only the change in magnetic field can induce a current. So, it has to constantly heating and cooling. How do you do that when it’s next to a hot muffler?

    We would be hard put to create any kind of a 12V current to charge a battery. You actually need an overvoltage (>12V) to charge a 12V battery. This will never be a meaningful electricity source without, wait for, great expense.

    In thermodynamics, the waste heat is called low quality energy. It cannot be converted into high quality energy.

  33. Too bad there wasn’t a way to use a Crookes Radiometer here to provide the “motion” this device needs (“…The problem becomes how to move the device in and out of a hot environment without using more energy than is produced…”)

    Place the device on the blades. Shade half the tube. As the device spins, goes from hotter to cooler.

    Also, when a Crookes Radiometer is exposed to a radiant heat source, it acts as a heat engine “…heat loss through the glass keeps the internal bulb temperature steady so that the two sides of the vanes can develop a temperature difference…”)

    Enough of a difference to power this thing? I have no idea.

  34. Positive: There is a huge amount of low grade waste heat in the world that it would be good to convert to useful high grade forms such as electricity. Negative: Efficiencies of conversion are necessarily small because of the second law of thermodynamics. This implies that costs may be high, perhaps too high to justify investment. This is what has held back thermoelectrics for more than a century.

  35. At this stage of the game this is akin to cancer drugs working exceptionally well on rats in the lab. Exciting but very immature.

  36. I live in Australia. If our government had proposed spending some (already levied) tax dollars on a competitive programme for innovation in energy sources, efficiency and application thereof, I think they would have gained universal approval.

    Incidentally, is the “Naval Research” funding from the same source as the – and I hesitate to call it thus – “cold fusion” projects?

    This is exactly the sort of research that deserves funding. If only we could persuade the powers that be to take a deep breath and invest in our real energy future, rather than chasing ideological shadows down the rabbit hole, I reckon we’d have the goal of cheap, clean and (virtually) unlimited energy cracked well before peak oil.

  37. “If it could heat and cool 50 or 60 times a second then we might have something.”

    I think that could be easily managed with a mechanical valve that “flaps”. You would need four of them and they would need to be interconnected so that they “flap” synchronously, but I believe that would be manageable.

    Heat is removed from most data centers using water. You have a hot water side and a chilled water side. If the hot and cold water could be applied alternately to the device, it could work.

  38. [snip - no it doesn't - Anthony]

    I wonder if this post will pass the arbiters of good taste at WUWT? ; > )

  39. If practical techniques can be derived from this, you can bet that the greenies will find some reason to attack it

  40. RE: Expensive….. Tin is at the moment and has been for the last year. It was $30,000USD a ton in the last 6 months. I have faceting laps* from Jon Rolfe that are almost pure tin. The price has gone up enough that he has been working on other materials including semi-metallics. Cast Zinc in near pure form have come out as a strong alternative. Not as forgiving as Sn though.

    * faceting laps are used to cut and polish gemstones by introducing diamond or oxide materials such as Chromium, Cerium or Aluminum Oxide into the lap and rotating it against the stone – a great hobby for engineers that have finished reading WUWT. This once, I have included a web link for contact if the admins feel it is appropriate and not too far off topic

  41. Friends:

    The reported novel multiferroic alloy is an important and interersting development but not for the purpose stated in the report.

    The proposed multiferroic alloy device would need to be cycled through its phase transition temperature for continuous electricity generation, but this cycling through a specific temperature is likely to be an unsurmountable problem for economic electricity generation. A simple thermocouple would be a better option for the proposed electricity generation as it will operate at any temperatures higher than its ‘cold’ end but not so hot as to damage either of its bimetals.

    However, the novel material is interesting in that it provides an interesting change of property upon changing from its martensitic to its austenitic phases. Different crystal phases often provide metals with different material properties and blacksmiths have made use of this for millenia: e.g. to provide the bulk of a hacksaw blade with ductile but soft strength while the edge containing its teeth is very hard but brittle.

    Nobody can know what uses will be imagined in the future for the reported change of property with phase of the novel alloy. But the use stated in the article is not likely to be one of them (see above).

    And it should be noted that an interesting property change does not always find a use. For example, air can leak through red-hot iron but not cooler iron, and no use for this has been found.

    There is a problem with gaining research funds for novel materials: i.e. potential funders ask “What use is it?” and they expect an answer. So, researchers need to give an answer because no real use will ever be found if the research is not conducted. I suspect that the suggested ‘electricity generation’ for the novel multiferroic alloy may be one such ‘answer’.

    The novel material we really need is a room-temperature superconductor. That would change the world.

    Richard

  42. When I was a youngster – 1960 plus or minus a year or two – a buddy of mine had a “science project”… What we would call a “thermopile”, I guess. A cylindrical insulator (asbestos, IIRC – this was in the days when we played with mercury for fun), with wires – I forget what two materials – welded together inside and out. Many junctions. Put a bunsen burner under the thing and it would light up a flashlight bulb.

    Since I run a woodstove all winter anyway, I’ve always been interested in thermo-voltaics… If only we could get congress to repeal that pesky second law…

    Interesting, but I’m holdin’ out for neutrino-voltaic panels!

    Best,
    Frank

  43. There may be a way to incorporate this into building design to take advantage of the differences in temperature on the skin of the building as well as from the top and bottom of the building. Assuming of course that the materials cost would be cheap enough to justify it

  44. Scott Covert says:
    June 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm
    We have lots of waste heat in my plant. We looked at putting in a low pressure steam generator to use up the leftover 450 pound and 40 pound steam but the investment was significant and the regulations in California were a hinderence. In the end, the transmission lines are already overloaded and we limit production in our primary generators because we are pushing against the grid as hard as the transmission lines will allow already.

    I am absolutely sure we would not be intesested in this technology even though we probably have megawatts of free heat.

    There’s one company in Canada that manufactures 38 KW Stirling engines that run on various forms of waste heat. google it. I m sure you’ll find it.

  45. Oops. Waste heat is just that: waste heat, the end of the flow of usable energy. What these people discovered is a new material that becomes magnetic at a certain (high) temperature, and then produces a negligible voltage blip once. In order to make energy, the material must go through its off state again, producing a reversing current, and then on again (hysteresis), which through conduction is a very slow and wasteful process. The amount of energy harvested this way can never be of any use.

  46. I am still waiting for the first “green technology” that doesn’t consume more (fossil) energy than it produces during it’s rated life cycle, independent from sun light or wind. Wake me up when they have found one and I will buy it immediately.

  47. Seems to me that the device has to spin in and out of a waste heat environment. If it spins too rapidly the temperature differential will be too small to create the desired effect. So it needs to spin fairly slowly giving a very low magnetic to electric output. No, I don’t think that i will be buying one of those.

  48. Let us suppose it scales by weight.

    3 g = .6 mV pulse
    30g = 6 mV pulse
    30Kg = 6 V pulse

    That is about 66 lbs. for pulses. I could see this as a sensor. As a generator? Not so much.

  49. Is this another indication the current solar power industry may be nearing the Beta Max destiny.

  50. From the comments here, it looks like I’d get more electricity from my car’s tailpipe if I put a tiny turbine generatior in it. :-)

  51. How dirty are these materials to work with? How much toxic waste is generated that has to be disposed of? That’s why photovoltaicsare moving to China. Just dump the highly toxic wastes in the nearest landfill.

  52. Saad,

    Naval research does fund a lot of research into this area and there are existing waste heat generation systems in use. A direct means of producing electricity from waste heat would be a significant advancement.

    Crosspatch

    The biggest problem with the heating and cooling 50-60 times a second is not so much developing a flap or valve to control the flow, but the thermal and pressure effects on the heat exchanger. The heat source and the cooling medium will be flowing through some form of expansion joints, and the cyclic stress will cause significant fatigue failures.

  53. Theory predicts that under optimal conditions the performance compares favorably with the best thermoelectrics.

    Hmm, There’s a catch there – it may be out-of-date. From http://www.e-catworld.com/2011/05/24/caltech-researchers-develop-thermocouple-twice-as-efficient-as-exisiting-technology-rossis-interested/ I found in part:

    Caltech Researchers Develop Thermocouple Twice As Efficient As Exisiting Technology: Rossi’s Interested

    A reader on Rossi’s web site brought his attention to recent work that has been done at Caltech where researchers have developed a thermocouple that is twice as efficient as current technology and which is able to harvest energy at temperatures found in waste heat from automobiles. Caltech faculty associate G. Jeffrey Snyder projects that this technology could use heat from a car’s tailpipe to charge the car’s battery and provide fuel savings of ten per cent.

    More about that is at http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-high-performance-bulk-thermoelectrics.html which says in part:

    Researchers develop high-performance bulk thermoelectrics
    May 23, 2011 by Dave Zobel

    The Caltech researchers began with lead telluride and then added a fractional amount of the element selenium, a concoction first proposed by Soviet scientists A. F. Ioffe and A. V. Ioffe in the 1950s. Because any semiconductor’s properties are highly sensitive to the exact type and placement of each of its atoms, this small alteration in the formula produces important changes in the crystal’s electronic structure.

    To make sense of these tradeoffs, scientists speak of a quantity known as the “thermoelectric figure of merit,” a dimensionless value that can be used to compare the relative efficiency of materials at specific temperatures. The temperature at which peak efficiency is seen depends on the material: each of the Voyager twins, for instance, produces enough juice to power a medium-sized refrigerator, but to do so it must draw heat from decaying radioisotopes. “These new materials are roughly twice as effective as anything seen before, and they work well in a temperature range of around 400 to 900 degrees Kelvin,” says Snyder. “Waste heat recovery from a car’s engine falls well within that range.”

    In other words, the heat escaping out your car’s tailpipe could be used to help power the vehicle’s electrical components – and not just the radio, wipers, and headlights. “You’ll see applications wherever there’s a solid-state advantage,” Snyder predicts. “One example is the charging system. The electricity to keep your car’s battery charged is generated by the alternator, a mechanical device driven by a rubber belt powered by the crankshaft. You’ve got friction, slippage, strain, internal resistance, wear and tear, and weight, in addition to the mechanical energy extracted to make the electricity. Just replacing that one subsystem with a thermoelectric solution could instantly improve a car’s fuel efficiency by 10 percent.”

  54. The amount of energy harvested this way can never be of any use.

    Let’s file that one away for future reference.

  55. At least two problems not counting any technical difficulties in suitable sources of heat or operating efficiency.

    First is we (USA anyhow) don’t really need new ways of generating electricity. We need new ways of storing it, distributing it, and using it. Generation is the least of our concerns. The only people worried about electricity are misguided CO2 hysterics. Liquid hydrocarbon fuels that are drop-in replacements for existing fuels is what we need both for energy security in the near term and in the mid term the eventual economic infeasibility of pumping oil that’s ever harder to get at and more difficult to refine.

    The second problem is these devices appear to be far too expensive to manufacture with copper windings, niobium permanent magnets, and an exotic multi-ferrous alloy so precious the researchers didn’t cut or shape it after making it because that would have wasted some of it. They used a piece less than a centimeter in diameter.

  56. I’m moderately skeptical. It seems alike a lot of work and a lot of material to coax out something that doesn’t work better than thermoelectric devices.

    A couple notes on notes:

    George says:
    June 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    RE: Expensive. Tin is at the moment and has been for the last year. It was $30,000USD a ton in the last 6 months.

    * faceting laps are used to cut and polish gemstones … great hobby for engineers that have finished reading WUWT.

    How can anyone finish reading WUWT any more?

    http://www.metalprices.com/FreeSite/metals/nickelalloy/nickelalloy.asp has some current prices, and some 2007 prices, sigh. Subscription required for current prices.

    Ni $10/lb, Co $40/lb, Mn $0.85/lb, Sn $11/lb

    Lead (for Lead telluride in my previous comment): Pb $1.10/lb. Don’t know about Lead telluride, probably expensive. PbTe is the mineral Altaite.

    Frank Kotler says:
    June 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Since I run a woodstove all winter anyway, I’ve always been interested in thermo-voltaics.

    I bought my wife a good Christmas present – a woodstove fan powered by a thermoelectric cell. I see today it’s likely PbTe, and not thermocouples as the cell
    is flat, thin, and a couple inches square.

    http://www.envirogadget.com/home-gadgets/ecofan-heat-powered-wood-stove-fan/

    Neat device – the fan speed tells you approximately how hot the stove is.

  57. Alex the skeptic says:
    June 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    > Scott Covert, here it is: http://www.flexenergy.hu/en/products.html Its a generator producing 38 KW at 50 Hz.

    Cute, but it doesn’t say anything about using waste heat, just waste inflammables – “Its fuel supply is very versatile, it works with basically any type of combustible gasous fuels: natural gas, biogas, methane, landfill gas, furnace gas, wood-gas, flare gas, synthetic gas, hydrogen, volatile organic compounds and even liquid fuel.”

  58. I’m sure there will be uses for a material that can change phase from non-magnetic to magnetic with the application of a little heat, even if it’s not direct power generation.

    WRT tail pipes, I had the idea (and published it in a letter to a UK car magazine nearly 40 years ago) of splitting a turbocharger so that the exhaust side could drive a small (fast!) generator and the induction side would be driven by an electric motor. This would eliminate turbo lag and provide a replacement for the usual alternator, as there would be power generated whenever the engine was running. You’re welcome to try it, but please remember me if it works!

  59. When they say short video, they mean short video. Don’t blink. At 4 seconds, you see a piece of metal jump in the “short” video. But, it apparently also represents the capability of a very quick change in magnetism created by this new discovery.

  60. Perhaps it could replace solar panels in space. Something like a double sided board that rotates at an appropriate speed – the side catching the sun heating up and the side in shadow cooling down.

  61. Might be a good application for radio thermal generators (RTG) in outbound exploratory spacecraft. Currently they use uber-expensive plutonium to generate about a 1000F temperature gradient across a thermoelectric (dissimilar metals in contact like a thermocouple) bank. The high operating temperature produces material degradation problems that are expensive to work around in and of themselves. Even at that operating temperature they are only about 5% efficient and are so heavy they usually comprise about half the payload. The researchers here claim this novel thermo-electric effect is comparably efficient with conventional thermo-electric materials per degree of temperature gradient. The larger claim is that it’s only a tenth the weight of conventional thermoelectrics. That could save big bucks in deep space exploration as much of the cost of the projects is in lifting the payload mass past escape velocity. But I just don’t see it having practical application elsewhere. One astute commenter here mentioned he could see it as a sensor but not as a generator. He was right on the money equating this with a common thermocouple which generates a measurable voltage but except in exotic applications are not used to generate usable amounts of power.

  62. Ric Werme says:
    June 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    “I’m moderately skeptical. It seems alike a lot of work and a lot of material to coax out something that doesn’t work better than thermoelectric devices.”

    The major claim is (quoted from the paper) “The predicted power density of an optimized device is more than an order of magnitude greater than thermoelectrics with the highest known ZT value.”

    So basically it weighs a lot less than the thermoelectric banks that go into RTG power supplies. Same power from same source of heat but a lot less weight.

  63. Ric Werme says:
    June 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    “One example is the charging system. The electricity to keep your car’s battery charged is generated by the alternator, a mechanical device driven by a rubber belt powered by the crankshaft. You’ve got friction, slippage, strain, internal resistance, wear and tear, and weight, in addition to the mechanical energy extracted to make the electricity. Just replacing that one subsystem with a thermoelectric solution could instantly improve a car’s fuel efficiency by 10 percent.”

    This is key. What is on offer here may be somewhat greater efficiency: not actual additional production of usable energy, but less energy used to achieve a given goal, in this case, producing motive power to transport goods and people. Greater efficiency is generally good, if there are no secondary penalties (maintenance, reliability, etc…). Like Floor Anthoni said, waste heat is waste heat, but maybe you can generate less of it overall.

  64. Nice sales pitch.
    Maybe the agw crowd will buy it…….as a way to remove heat from the atmosphere.
    Fire no longer evil….move on to next crisis….

  65. It might be useful in space, the rotisserie or barbecue mode used to keep spacecraft cool could be used to make juice.

  66. @richard courtney

    “The novel material we really need is a room-temperature superconductor. That would change the world.”

    Not unless it’s also cheap, ductile, and doesn’t lose superconductivity in magnetic fields. Good luck with that.

    One material I’d like to see with world changing potential is carbon nano-tube cable or ribbon with enough strength to make a space elevator possible. It’s tantalizingly close now with incremental improvements rolling out like clockwork. That makes the cost of boosting mass to orbit trivial and when you can do that it makes solar thermoelectric power generation viable. Imagine solar concentrators that don’t have to deal with weather. You can use the thinnest of foils and they hold their shape perfectly and don’t get dirty and don’t have to deal with cloudy days. What’s more you can send the energy 24/7 to pretty much any place on the globe through focused microwave transmission to inexpensive small footprint rectenna installations. That solves many if not most of the most vexing problems in shifting from hydrocarbon fuels to electricity.

    I still think biofuel from genetically engineered micro-organisms will win the day long before anything else comes close. It almost seems like a slam dunk in the next 20 years. Pilot plants are being built as we speak able to compete with $30/bbl oil. It almost seems to me like $100+ barrels of oil are a dying industry’s final act in milking all the money out of it they can before they are driven back down to $15/bbl to remain competitive with the new renewable source.

  67. Richard wrote:

    “There is a problem with gaining research funds for novel materials: i.e. potential funders ask “What use is it?” and they expect an answer. So, researchers need to give an answer because no real use will ever be found if the research is not conducted.”

    This was the modern age bummer that set such a divide betwen the old and new school that helped turn me away from academia, way back in the late ’90s.

  68. Re Crosspatch

    Exactly what popped into my mind. Many larger commercial data centers take the outside mains power, rectify it to high current DC, apply that DC across a bank of wet cell batteries and then regenerate AC power for distribution inside the facility.

    Where it’s plugged into AC/DC transformers in the customer kit where there are more conversion losses and waste heat. Datacentres could be more efficient if more customer kit were DC fed, but typically vendors charge a premium for that. Next step would be to make domestic wiring and equipment DC powered and do away with billions of transformers.

    As for solar panels, some places have done this but it’s the usual problem of cost. Whether this material would be useful in a datacentre would I guess depend on cost and power output. If it needs temperature changes to make power, strapping it across chilled water/air and return. That might be expensive.

    I think Richard S. Courtney may be right and this material ends up more useful for it’s magnetic properties.

  69. Ric Werme says:
    June 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    “One example is the charging system. The electricity to keep your car’s battery charged is generated by the alternator, a mechanical device driven by a rubber belt powered by the crankshaft. You’ve got friction, slippage, strain, internal resistance, wear and tear, and weight, in addition to the mechanical energy extracted to make the electricity. Just replacing that one subsystem with a thermoelectric solution could instantly improve a car’s fuel efficiency by 10 percent.”

    10% horsepower draw from an alternator? Maybe in a Honda Civic with headlights on, electric cooling fan spinning, air conditioning blower motor running at full speed, and a 200 pound megawoofer in the trunk blasting music out at a volume annoying to entire neighborhoods at once. Alternator horsepower draw is pretty dependent on the load and percentage horsepower is pretty dependent on how much total horsepower is available. Automotive electrical requirements generally rise much slower than engine power. The alternator draw on an 18-wheeler for instance is trivial compared to total power from the engine. And remember those alternators use el cheapo self-exciting electromagnets instead of that expensive chunk of niobium in the gadget under discussion to say nothing of the cost of producing the multiferrous alloy.

  70. A thermocouple generates steady d-c current when heated. If I understand this widget correctly, it generates a magnetic field when heated and that field collapses when the widget is cooled. Alternating current is induced in a surrounding coil when the expanding and collapsing field passes through the windings of that coil. Can anyone explain to me any practical means of heating and cooling the widget 60 times per second? I fail to see any practical power generating potential for this scientific curiosity. What have I missed here?

  71. Think of a pair of them using a shared conical diaphragm, like a loudspeaker cone, use a pair of reed valves to direct liquid/air flow; a sort of Sterling cycle. Moving fluid over a circuit board for free can’t be bad.

  72. I weakness for atrocious puns. Now Jack Green and Bart have provided the opening that I need. The devil made me do it.

    •Have you heard about the new high-tech embalming fluid?
    •It’s called Perpetual Lotion. :-)

  73. “To create the material, the research team combined elements at the atomic level to create a new multiferroic alloy, Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10.”

    Not to nitpick but I believe the ” -ferroic” part implies the presence of iron. Where is the iron in the alloy?

  74. @NikFromNYC

    Drat! I was going to mention Tesla’s pyromagnetic generator and see you have already done so! Yes, Tesla’s version cycles a ferromagnetic material’s temperature back and forth around it’s Curie temperature to modulate a magnetic field and create an induced current. The thing that I find interesting about the current development is that these scientists have apparently created a material with a sort of inverted Curie temperature function. Heat it up, it is ferromagnetic, cool it down and it is not ferromagnetic. Very neat trick!

    From a practical point though, I do not see it as being a particularly efficient way to change low quality heat to electricity. There may be better ways to harvest waste heat.

    http://www.prismnet.com/~frg/tar.htm

  75. A few years ago, a business contact of mine tried to get me to back him in a scheme to scavenge waste heat from car exhaust thermoelectrically. I asked him for a comparative analysis of his technology versus a turbocharger with regard to cost, efficiency, etc. I never heard from him again.

    I have my doubts that even significantly improved thermoelectric generation in cars would be better than the present alternator generation.

  76. There is a fair amount of hot air in the comments today, all received in good spirit, but let’s be a little more realistic. This effect is new, it is very significant and not to be sneezed at.

    There are Peltier devices that are designed to work at surprisingly low Delta T’s – check Micropelt in Germany. They work in a comparable environment (low DT) but are not as efficient as the common types so this is big news.

    A key word for application in the descriuption is ‘thin’. Materials that have a high Ni content are usually extremely resistant to mechanical stress (changing size/crystal structure). When this material is made a few nanometres thick and cycled at perhaps 0.1 or 1 kHz, there may be all sorts of strange and interesting devices made.

    One of the current new applications of small amounts of electric power is the operation of small fans on domestic stoves. See the bioenergylists.org, for example. The average ‘fan stove’ has a 90% reduction in PM emissions, and that is before much serious work has been done researching them.

    The fragility of the current crop of Peltier devices is a big hindrance to bringing cell phone charging and LED lighting to very poor and remote populations – the two critical most needs.

    I look forward to seeing a practical device in perhaps 10 years, and that is without significant additional discoveries which are undoubtedly in store. The low mass per watt will be a very important characteristic.

  77. The power generation only takes place during the phase change, so you have to repeatedly cycle the material from hot to cold. This is going to require some interesting mechanisms and fairly large parasitic loads. The only thing in its favor is that it is not subject to Carnot Efficiency limits.

    Don’t hold your breath folks. This is going to just be another of those interesting phenomena without significant real world application.

  78. brings to mind the old stirling cycle mechanical engines that use external heat to operate again the big difficulty with them is purging the heat from the cylinder at each stroke of the cylinder.

  79. During an electronics course I did years ago, much time was spent studying the ins and outs of heat sinks, an essential component in any circuitry delivering power to a load. It struck me then that there had to be a better way than wasting so much energy. Now, it seems, there is.

  80. Exploiting waste heat? What is wrong with a Stirling Engine? You could use the waste heat from your car engine to charge your battery and run your air conditioner? What about a number of them in the cooling towers of a power station?

  81. U of M? I have a suspicion, that while coded carefully in their PR, what they really mean is that they’ve found a way to turn waste heat from cooking corn mash to produce ethanol into electricity. . . .

  82. Sounds like a Thermocouple to me. We have known about them for over 100 years and using them for a similar period.

  83. The efficiency is given in the paper. They tested a delta-T=10°, T_Max=300°K setup and got 0.004% efficiency (Yes, thats not a typo). It’s mainly limited by Carnot’s law, which it cannot evade since it requires to operate with a very small delta-T.

  84. Any one seen this one? Just asking.

    http://www.freeecopower.com/c2s/?hopc2s=isyot

    It’s an ad. of course, but on face value seems genuine. Can we trust anyone that this is an alternative to home electrics? Just asking!
    Here is an extract…Free Eco Power generators were designed so that anyone can easily build and implement one. Our Free Eco Power guide will take you every step of the way from start to finish and leave you with a magnetic generator that is capable of powering your entire home month after month. So, not only will your Free Eco Power generator save you money, it will put money back in your pocket over time.

    How can this be possible? Is this a hoax? Check out the following video of a man who has built just such a device and see for yourself.
    Just asking!!!

  85. higley7 says: “In thermodynamics, the waste heat is called low quality energy. It cannot be converted into high quality energy.”
    Jack Green says: “Sorry. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says this won’t work.”
    …and like comments

    Without passing judgment on whether this device and phenomenon is any use or not (it’s too early to say), I really must take issue with some of these comments on thermodynamics. Have these and other commenters making similar remarks ever studied thermodynamics at degree level physics ? If so, they will know that such comments are false. I don’t think I’ve known a physical principle to be so widely misunderstood as the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    One man’s waste heat is another man’s useful heat. It is only considered ‘waste’ heat in a heat engine where it is at the same temperature as the heat sink. Design a second heat engine that operates between the ‘waste heat’ temperature as a heat source and a lower temperature heat sink and you can extract more energy, and in as ‘high quality’ form as you like. The ‘waste heat’ is only ‘low quality’ with respect to the ORIGINAL heat engine because it can’t do any more useful work in THAT heat engine. But it is fallacious to say that waste heat from one heat engine can’t produce ‘high quality energy’ in a second heat engine designed to use (as its heat source) the ‘waste’ energy dumped into the heat sink of the first engine . Whenever heat flows from a hotter body to a colder body it is possible to extract useful (‘high quality’) energy. Make the hotter body the exhaust of some combustion heat engine, and the colder body the atmosphere, for instance, and you will definitely be able to extract ‘high quality’ energy, though only a proportion of the total heat flow, the maximum proportion and optimal efficiency being limited by the Second Law.

    According to some of the comments above, one would never be able, for example, to produce ‘high quality’ electrical energy from the ‘low quality’ heat energy in the ground, but there are plenty of installations working very well thank you doing just that. There are also hundreds of thousands of domestic boilers in the UK producing electricity from the ‘low quality’ exhaust heat of gas-fired heaters.

  86. Dave Springer, NikFromNYC, and Atomic Hairdryer:

    Thankyou for your responses to my post at June 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm which you provide at June 22, 2011 at 4:33 pm, June 22, 2011 at 4:33 pm and June 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm, respectively.

    As pertinent anecdote, I point out that the only novel material I devised was the Foseco candle filter medium which had the benefit of being strong during installation but then sacrificed unneeded operating strength for needed operating toughness in response to shock (i.e. impact stress) from reverse pulsing. So, I fully appreciate the point made by Dave Springer who responds to my having said;
    “The novel material we really need is a room-temperature superconductor. That would change the world.”
    With the comment;
    “Not unless it’s also cheap, ductile, and doesn’t lose superconductivity in magnetic fields. Good luck with that.”

    Of course, he is right. As my anecdote illustrates, a novel material for an intended specific purpose needs to be capable of withstanding a range of conditions and circumstances. But “luck” has nothing to do with this. In every case, the problem is constrained by physics, chemistry and the ingenuity engineers can apply to the materials that material scientists devise and/or suggest for specific applications.

    As illustration, aluminium has high electrical conductivity so is good for electrical transmission lines but has high creep rate so is impractical for use as electrical transmission cables. Engineers overcome this by using lines which are a supporting core of steel wire surrounded by aluminium (i.e. duralumin alloy).

    So, I think what I said and the response of Dave Springer both have merit.

    NikFromNYC quoted my saying:
    “There is a problem with gaining research funds for novel materials: i.e. potential funders ask “What use is it?” and they expect an answer. So, researchers need to give an answer because no real use will ever be found if the research is not conducted.”
    Then he commented;
    “This was the modern age bummer that set such a divide betwen the old and new school that helped turn me away from academia, way back in the late ’90s.”

    I thank him for that anecdote. It clearly illustrates a problem that research in all scientific fields now has. The best researchers now tend to seek work in commercial and/or military research facilities and, therefore, much of the best work does not get published – so cannot be utilised – in the public domain for at least 30 years if ever. I think this is one reason why the flow of radically new scientific findings up to about 1970 has since trickled to a halt (of course, this is mere opinion and I cannot substantiate it).

    Atomic Hairdryer says:
    “I think Richard S. Courtney may be right and this material ends up more useful for it’s magnetic properties.”

    I remind that I pointed out that not all material properties that change with temperature prove useful. The novel multiferroic alloy may or may not have a use, and we need to wait to find that out.

    Again, thanks to you all for your interest in what I wrote.

    Richard

  87. I agree 100% with everything scientist for truth says here. (June 23, 2011 at 4:40 am)
    I hope this is the first of many occasions I’ll be able to say that.
    :-)

  88. Simply use a LENR device to rotate the material through a heat gradient and get all the free energy that magical thinking can produce.

  89. I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe it’s been mentioned … but … I wonder if this technology can be used to generate electricity from heat generated by the sun .. and how efficient it would be compared to photovoltaics.

  90. OK .. I see the sun has been discussed. Apparently it is the temp gradient that produces the electricity. One post mentioned how to cool it …. How bout water??

    Let it heat up .. generate electricity .. .then cool it with gravity feed water.

  91. This is not a joke is it? What does a thermocouple do? What about the Seebeck effect? Why are these not powering the engines of manufacturing today?

  92. Deanster says:
    June 23, 2011 at 5:56 am

    “I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe it’s been mentioned … but … I wonder if this technology can be used to generate electricity from heat generated by the sun .. and how efficient it would be compared to photovoltaics.”

    Utterly dismal in comparison. This is a very promising way to greatly reduce the weight of RTG power supplies used in deep space exploration. Those use traditional thermoelectric banks (dissimilar metals in physical contact) with about 1000F temperature gradient produced by a decaying mass of plutonium across the thermocouples and are about 5% efficient which is in the same ballpark as photovoltaic efficiency. The big differences are cost and operating environment. PV panels are several orders of magnitude less expensive to manufacture and don’t need any temperature gradient at all. Concentrating sunlight to heat any substantial mass to 1000F is expensive in and of itself. The only reason solar panels aren’t used in deep space probes is because sunlight rapidly falls in intensity as distance from the sun increases. They’re fine for missions closer to the sun but don’t produce enough power once you get much beyond the orbit of Mars. RTG power supplies are hideously expensive mostly due to the price of plutonium and they are so heavy they account for about half the weight of the payload. In turn the weight of the payload is itself the single largest cost factor in the project due to how expensive it is to boost mass from the earth’s surface to escape velocity from the sun. Often complicated slingshots around various planets are employed to add delta-V which adds years to the time it takes to reach a destination, makes for very narrow launch windows, but greatly reduces launch costs. It’s potentially a wonderful technology for a very limited range of applications. Unfortunately none of those applications fall into the category of replacement for existing bulk electrical generation in common everyday use.

  93. Richard S Courtney says:
    June 23, 2011 at 5:02 am

    “So, I fully appreciate the point made by Dave Springer who responds to my having said;
    “The novel material we really need is a room-temperature superconductor. That would change the world.”
    With the comment;
    “Not unless it’s also cheap, ductile, and doesn’t lose superconductivity in magnetic fields. Good luck with that.”

    Of course, he is right. As my anecdote illustrates, a novel material for an intended specific purpose needs to be capable of withstanding a range of conditions and circumstances. But “luck” has nothing to do with this.

    When it comes to high temperature superconductors luck has everything to do with it. Theory only describes low temperature superconductors. There is currently no theory of high temperature superconductivity so discovering them is indeed purely a matter of luck.

  94. ScientistForTruth says:
    June 23, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Low quality heat is just that. It would be wonderful if you could make an efficient heat engine using water raised to say 100F over ambient which is really easy to do with inexpensive solar collectors. Before you stick your foot any further into your mouth you need to figure out why no one has accomplished this feat after 200 years of trying. You might want to begin with Carnot’s Law instead of blithering on about the laws of thermodynamics and your supposed graduate level studies in physics. What a laugh.

  95. Isn’t the problem here that the induced electricity is caused by the phase transition as a result of the temperature change. That means that just exposing it to heat gives you the kick only once, when the material warms up. In order to generate useful power the device has therefore to go through an endless cycle of warming and cooling
    around the transition temperature. That would need some device to control the temperature. The question is then, does operating that device cost more or less than the electric power generated? An interesting engineering challenge.

  96. re; heat engines using low quality heat

    Ammonia is an interesting working fluid in that it vaporizes at a convenient temperature for simple solar collectors. The inevitable engineering problem one faces is that you need slow moving pistons the size of 55 gallon drums to get usable amounts of mechanical energy. Friction losses in piston cylinders that size are formidable and is compounded by the losses in a gearbox that steps up the very slow primary crankshaft speed to an RPM range suitable for an electrical generator shaft. Throttling it to a constant speed for an alternator or generator is yet another engineering nightmare and if you don’t do that then you need to use expensive lossy solid state electronics to generate a steady 120VAC at 60 hertz.

    Indeed the first steam engines using low pressure boilers incorporated huge pistons like that. Gadgets that size are not suitable for very many applications and even so low pressure steam is still a few hundred degrees above ambient and that’s not easily attainable by inexpensive solar collectors which are generally limited to something a few tens of degrees south of 212F. Low pressure steam (low quality heat) is wonderful for transmitting energy from one place to another which is why there are still thousands of miles of steam pipes running beneath older cities but it’s all being used to heat buildings which is about the only practical application for low quality heat.

    Steam turbines abound in electrical generation but these are driven by dry steam in the neighborhood of 2000F inlet temperature. Multiple stage turbine fans take it down to about 500F at the outlet which is the practical lower limit for direct extraction of further mechanical energy sufficient to econimically overcome parasitic losses. In combined cycle generation the low quality heat from the turbine outlet steam is scavenged to preheat water coming into the boiler but the scavenger system isn’t free of cost and once the steam reaches condensation temperature it’s pretty useless after that as there’s no latent heat of vaporization left to extract leaving just a hundred or so BTU’s per pound of hot water which can be used to heat the generator buildings if it’s cold outside but has no other practical use.

  97. Carnot Efficiency = 1 – (Tc/Th)

    This is the maximum possible efficiency for an idealized frictionless heat engine. Tc is the ambient temperature and Th is the inlet temperature both in Kelvin.

    Thus for say a steam engine operating at 500F inlet temperature exhausting into 70F ambient the maximum possible (Carnot) efficiency is

    1- (294/533) = 45%

    That’s all well and good but in the real world no one has been able to design a practical heat engine with fewer than 45% in parasitic losses. The best combined cycle steam turbine generators operate at 65% efficiency which handily explains why the exhaust steam temperature is 500F.

    The take home lesson here is that there’s a wide divide separating scientists from engineers. Physics boffins lacking engineering expertise should stick to theory and put a sock in it when it comes to translating theory into practical application. When that border is crossed we get huge multi-billion dollar boondoggles like hot fusion reactors where the scientists get all excited about exceeding break-even for a few milliseconds and happily ignore the fact that no known material in the world can stand up for a month as the inner walls in a fusion containment vessel.

  98. That’s not to say engineers are immune to crossing over into the domain of scientists and saying foolish things in the process. They tend to see any quasi-scientific discovery that has yet to be vetted (cold fusion comes to mind) as something revolutionary in practical value and start drooling on their drafting tables like Pavlov’s dog. I try very hard to not do this myself and usually look at things from both perspectives with a jaundiced eye. Currently I’m still trying to find what if any roadblocks there are between genetic engineering and very economical biofuel production. So far I can’t find any which is why I remain convinced that is the future for energy demand and it’s only a relatively short amount of time before the genetic engineers give the manufacturing engineers exactly what they need. It’s not even a matter of scientific discovery at this point. It’s entirely an engineering challenge and I’ll be darned if I can find any showstoppers in the engineering challenge.

  99. It’s certainly a cool little device – I want one just to play with. Although I share the doubts of many commenters about the conversion efficiency of the process, I can also remember growing up in the 60s, when the laser was described as “the solution looking for a problem”; if this can be put to work, perhaps by developing a way of cycling it quickly enough, I’m sure it will be.

    I immediately thought of the Seebeck effect myself in the context of waste heat utilisation. I remember seeing, in the RSGB magazine sometime in the 70s, mention of a neat thermoelectric generator used in occupied Norway in WWII. A considerable number of dissimilar metal fins were formed into a sheath which wrapped neatly around a hurricane lamp or similar, and it generated sufficient electricity from the heat differential across it to keep the battery of your (clandestine) wireless charged. Nice.

  100. Dave Springer “Low quality heat is just that. It would be wonderful if you could make an efficient heat engine using water raised to say 100F over ambient which is really easy to do with inexpensive solar collectors. Before you stick your foot any further into your mouth you need to figure out why no one has accomplished this feat after 200 years of trying. You might want to begin with Carnot’s Law instead of blithering on about the laws of thermodynamics and your supposed graduate level studies in physics. What a laugh.”

    What a nasty response! I never mentioned my own studies in physics, but since you intrude that little word ‘supposed’, then for the record, yes, I did read physics, which included thermodynamics, at the University of Oxford. Please in turn let me know where you studied your thermodynamics.

    As for the laws of thermodynamics, I was correcting the mistaken understanding of such laws given in previous posts and raised by such commenters. Rather than making ad hominem remarks, perhaps you would like to point out exactly what I wrote that was objectionable. Carnot’s theorem that you mention as a law is merely the result of applying the Second Law of Thermodynamics to heat engines, i.e. a special case of the Second Law, so what’s your point?

    There is no such thing in physics as ‘low quality heat’, as if heat were a substance that comes in degrees of quality. Heat is not enthalpy, nor is it temperature, nor is it entropy, neither can heat be stored, but it is energy in transfer. You can only talk about ‘low quality heat’, or ‘waste heat’, or ‘secondary heat’ conventionally or in layman’s language, not principially as in physics and thermodynamics. Wherever you have heat then you have energy in transfer, and if you don’t have energy in transfer you can’t have heat. Energy cannot be stored as heat. Sorry, folks, but if this sounds strange then your concept of ‘heat’ is not that of physics and thermodynamics, though it’s a very common misapprehension.

    Whether this device can work or not will be down to physics, not layman’s terms or understanding or the traditional know-how of boiler makers. Whether it can be commercialized is another matter entirely, and was not in view in my comment. That’s why I said ‘Without passing judgment on whether this device and phenomenon is any use or not (it’s too early to say), I really must take issue with some of these comments on thermodynamics.’

    Of course a heat engine can work with water heated by solar irradiation, but as you well know the maximal efficiency will be very low if the heat sink is at ambient temperature. But that’s not my point: my point is, as readers can see for themselves, that devices that can produce electricity from heat cannot possibly be in breach of the Second Law, as some commenters were suggesting. That, after all, is how we produce nearly all our electricity today.

  101. Dave Springer:

    At June 23, 2011 at 7:19 am you assert to me:

    “When it comes to high temperature superconductors luck has everything to do with it. Theory only describes low temperature superconductors. There is currently no theory of high temperature superconductivity so discovering them is indeed purely a matter of luck.”

    So, you do not know of a theory for “high temperature superconductors”. Well, it depends what you mean by “high temperature”. Superconductors cooled by liquid nitrogen now exist and were unimagined before 1986. Indeed, they are called ‘high-temperature superconductors’.

    I said;
    “The novel material we really need is a room-temperature superconductor. That would change the world.”

    It would, and I suspect that if the monies now provided for AGW so-called ‘science’ were offered for research into room-temperature superconductors then there would be a plethora of hypotheses and theories presented for evaluation.

    A useable high temperature superconductor would change civilisation more – and more rapidly – than the industrial revolution.

    Richard

  102. More exciting than demonstration of the physical effect, would be the demonstration of a working application, such as a generator of electricity employing the phenomenon.

  103. Okay so it heats up the nickel alloy, gives a surge of magnetics generates a pulse of current….. and then what? Do you have to cool it down and then heat it again? I suppose it also is a cooler – a generator and a refrigerator at the same time.

  104. ScientistForTruth says:
    June 23, 2011 at 4:40 am

    “Design a second heat engine that operates between the ‘waste heat’ temperature as a heat source and a lower temperature heat sink and you can extract more energy…”

    The problem, generally, is how practicably to access that lower temperature heat sink. In automotive applications, for example, being near the source of heat means the proximate ambient sink is not much lower.

  105. Maybe a niche product with possibly good but limited applications. Not the panacea most are looking for.

    J.

  106. You can already double the efficiency of cars by fitting diesel engines. Why would you add some heavy and expensive bit of junk just to power your radio?

  107. @scientistfortruth

    “There is no such thing in physics as ‘low quality heat’”

    Correct. It’s an engineering term and a damned important one too. I suggest you augment your “physics readings” at Oxford with some readings in the history department about the evolution of steam engines whereupon you will hopefully gain some understanding of the term “low quality heat”. Get back to me when you’ve gained that understanding because without it you’re just blowing hot air.

  108. @richard courtney

    “A useable high temperature superconductor would change civilisation more – and more rapidly – than the industrial revolution.”

    How so? It would make electrical generation, storage, and transmission much more efficient to be sure and electric motors would be more effecient as well. If I thought about it for a while I could figure out how it might benefit computer design too but I don’t see how that translates into changing the world more and more rapidly than the industrial revolution. Copper losses just aren’t that big of a deal. What am I missing?

  109. Steve C says:
    June 23, 2011 at 10:15 am

    “I immediately thought of the Seebeck effect myself in the context of waste heat utilisation. I remember seeing, in the RSGB magazine sometime in the 70s, mention of a neat thermoelectric generator used in occupied Norway in WWII. A considerable number of dissimilar metal fins were formed into a sheath which wrapped neatly around a hurricane lamp or similar, and it generated sufficient electricity from the heat differential across it to keep the battery of your (clandestine) wireless charged. Nice.”

    Hah! Replace the hurricane lamp with a chunk of plutonium and you have the same device except it’ll operate in a vacuum and won’t need refueling for decades.

    Necessity is, as they say, the mother of invention. Another device that saw a lot of use in WWII Europe was the syngas generator. Petrol was critically needed for the war effort and some clever inventor found that if you mounted a wood burning stove with limited air supply to the back of a vehicle (cars and tractors for instance) it would produce copious amounts of carbon monoxide and a smaller amount of methane. And if you filtered the soot out and tars out of the vapors through a water bath and fed it into the air intake of an internal combustion engine the engine would happily burn the CO instead of petrol. Syngas generators are making a bit of a comeback. I spent a few days reading all about them a year or three ago.

  110. @scientistfortruth

    “Of course a heat engine can work with water heated by solar irradiation, but as you well know the maximal efficiency will be very low if the heat sink is at ambient temperature. But that’s not my point: my point is, as readers can see for themselves, that devices that can produce electricity from heat cannot possibly be in breach of the Second Law, as some commenters were suggesting. That, after all, is how we produce nearly all our electricity today.”

    The maximal theoretical efficiency would be very low. The maximum efficiency in practice is a negative number. Solar energy, being free for the taking, is not a limiting factor. If you get 1% efficiency that would be fantastic because the input energy is free for the taking so you’d just scale it up to get the desired power output. In the real world you have to factor in construction, maintenance, and operating costs which is what turns any theoretical positive efficiency number into a negative number. If it weren’t for those real world engineering concerns we could do all sorts of nifty things like use solar heated warm water to heat a column of air rising into a hot air balloon which has a tether wound around a driveshaft so that when the balloon was released it would spin the driveshaft. Add a second balloon with a tether wound in the opposite direction and release that balloon when the first balloon neared its apex it would reverse the spin on the shaft and rewind the first tether as the first balloon descended giving you a constantly repeating spin cycle. Use of a simple tranmission gear to a second driveshaft would make the second shaft spin in the same direction all the time. Hook that up to an alternator or generator and there you go – low quality heat generating any amount of electricity you wanted. Alas, the engineering realities we must take into consideration make such things a practical impossibility but admittedly they’re fun to imagine and only become a problem when someone who doesn’t why they won’t work in practice wastes time and money finding out the hard way why they aren’t practical or they do it just because they find someone or some government agency foolish enough to pay them to develop it. All sorts of expensive boondoggles happen in just that manner.

    Of course Carnot’s Theorum (sorry for calling it Carnot’s Law) doesn’t apply to solid state devices such as the gadget in the OP but so far, and this gadget is no exception, no solid state conversion of heat to electricity has ever approached the attainable efficiency of mechanical heat engines. At best the solid state devices are an order of magnitude lower efficiency (6% vs. 60%) and that’s with the same “high quality” heat employed by typical pratical heat engine designs.

  111. The BIG problem with using solar heating to drive a heat engine is precisely described by the difference between low and high quality heat. Raw insolation is low quality so in order to get a heat engine operating in a positive efficiency domain you have to somehow concentrate the low quality heat into high quality heat. Various attempts using mirrors and lenses have been tried and tried again with some limited success but other factors not related to driving the generator still make it impractical. The best attempt so far is an installation in some western desert utilizing a field of mirrors which track the sun and direct the concentrated light onto a vat of molten salt which in turn serves as the heat source for a heat engine that drives a generator. Problems abound which still render it impractical. The capital cost is large, operating and maintenance costs are large, suitable locations are remote and not serviced by existing high tension transmission lines requiring even more capital to build those, and storage of sufficient amount of heat when the sun isn’t shining so that supply can be matched to demand combine into showstoppers. Smaller installations with a single parabolic mirror or fresnel lens driving a stirling engine make for some fascinating reading and great fun for the garage tinkerer but alas, except in cases where there is no grid from which to draw conventionally generated electricity, these too have less practical value than entertainment value for garage inventors.

  112. Dave Springer:

    At June 24, 2011 at 4:11 am you question my having said;

    “A useable high temperature superconductor would change civilisation more – and more rapidly – than the industrial revolution.”

    by asking me

    “How so? It would make electrical generation, storage, and transmission much more efficient to be sure and electric motors would be more effecient as well. If I thought about it for a while I could figure out how it might benefit computer design too but I don’t see how that translates into changing the world more and more rapidly than the industrial revolution. Copper losses just aren’t that big of a deal. What am I missing?”

    I answer; you are “missing” almost everything.

    Electrical generation, transmission and useage would each gain efficiency improvement. Only the use of electricity for heating would not benefit.

    The result would be equivalent to at least doubling the availability of electricity while reducing the cost of electricity by at least half. And there would only need to be infrastructure amendment: n.b. not infrastructure construction.

    All human activity is enabled by energy supply and limited by material science. A step change in the availability of cheap energy enables a resulting step change in human activity.

    The industrial revolution happened when the energy available in fossil fuels became useable by means of the steam engine. That required immense and expensive infrastructure construction (e.g. railways and factories).

    I repeat: the novel material we need is a room-temperature superconductor, and the monies being thrown away on AGW so-called ‘science’ could be put towards finding such a material.

    Please note that this is a statement of the blindingly obvious. It is not a plee for me to get research grants: my employment as a research material scientist ceased in 1995.

    Richard

  113. @Richard Courtney

    So you think room temperature superconductors halving the cost of electricity, a point I don’t dispute, would change the world more and more rapidly than the industrial revolution?

    I’m not buying it. Electric power represents 41% of U.S. energy consumption:

    Halving the cost of electricity is not a world altering event. If it were then we should have seen the opposite effect as the cost of petroleum quadrupled (or more) over the past two decades.

    I’m afraid you’re going to have to give me a lot more than just less expensive electricity to convince me that a cheap ductile room temperature superconductor is going to change more and more rapidly than the industrial revolution.

    I believe genetic engineering is going to bring off that feat. Once we are able to turn microbes into programmatically controlled self-reproducing self-maintaining slave labor forces able to build just about anything we want or need with molecular precision that will make the industrial revolution look puny in comparison. It will also make cost of energy plummet far more than any hypothetical room temperature superconductor as microbes can manufacture, pretty much for free, any hydrocarbon molecules we desire limited only by sunlight, water, and source of carbon. There will come a day in the not too distant future where instead of governments wanting to tax CO2 emissions they’ll be driven into regulating CO2 consumption as that is and will continue to be the primary source of source of carbon for living things including our GM microbes. The state of the art in genetic engineering is quickly approaching this point. This is not particularly new thinking. It’s been called the coming era of nanotechnology for about 25 years. A roadmap was laid out in the 1986 book “Engines of Creation” by K. Eric Drexler and colleagues in an MIT think tank. I read the book in 1987 and have been watching the roadmap being followed since that time. It has been remarkably accurate in both timing and sequence of milestone events. If I might humbly suggest reading the original work so you can see for yourself how prescient it was it’s available for free in its entirety here:

    http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/EOC/EOC_Table_of_Contents.html

    I consider this the most influential book on high technology I’ve ever read and probably the most influential I ever read without qualification.

  114. Anthony,

    275C is not waste heat. Most commercial steam turbines pull a vaccum on the last stage to get the last watt out of the steam, and the cooling is done at temps below 100C. 275C would require the exhaust of an internal combustion device, usually only used on vehicles. Most smokestack gas is around 200C or below. There are of course stationary IC motors, only continuously used in pipeline compressors and backup Diesel generators.

    Not much of a future here, in my opinion.

  115. Wonderful animation of first steam engine used to pump water out of mine shafts.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newcomen_steam_engine

    I actually built a table top model of one of these from scratch a few years ago with some modifications to use very low quality heat. It might not be obvious to everyone but the power stroke is when the steam condenses back into water which creates a vacuum inside the cylinder and external atmospheric pressure drives the piston downward with a nomimal force of 14.7 pounds per square inch of piston surface.

    The Newcomen engine requires a boiler that operates at a temperature high enough to produce steam that’s hot enough to not immediately condense when it enters the cylinder which means you have to keep the cylinder at an operating temperature very near 212F. Since cylinder is cooled by water injection on the power stroke you have to first add enough heat to bring the cylinder temperature back up above boiling point before the cylinder will start to fill with steam again.

    The modification I made was to put the cooling water on the outside of the cylinder and pump the air out of the dead space in the boiler before starting it up so it would operate with a partial internal vacuum. The partial vacuum I used lowered the boiling point of water down to something reasonably attainable by passive solar hot water heaters i.e. about 170F. For an energy source that I could precisely monitor instead of solar heated hot water I put a standard electric hot water heater element inside the boiler. I then used a dimmer switch to control how much power went into the heater element and a voltmeter for measuring it. Power output could be easily measured by a simple calculation taking the mass of the counterweight and distance travelled over time.

    I also modified it to be pistonless and valveless except for a stop-valve so the system could be iniatilized to a partial vacuum on startup. I did this by using a second vessel on the other side of the rocker arm and a steel pipe as the rocker arm itself. Steam pressure on the hot side would push the water out of the heated vessel into the unheated one and on the cooling stroke the water would drawn back over to the boiler side.

    With a suitable flywheel and connecting rod from the rocker arm you can spin a shaft connected to a generator or you can ditch that and use a linear generator. A linear generator would be far better as there are very substantial losses involved in the gearing needed to obtain rotational energy.

    It worked even down to close to room temperature water in the boiler depending on the quality of the vacuum I started out with. What bites you in the butt is that the latent heat of vaporization decreases as the temperature of the steam decreases. Thus it takes an impractical amount of energy to reheat the cylinder and piston face at the bottom of the power stroke, or in my case reheat the water from just below boiling temperature to just above it.

    According to my calculations in order to get a kilowatt of electricity out of it I’d need a rocker assembly with 10 feet of vertical travel, 500 gallon pressure vessels that wouldn’t collapse in an internal vacuum, and 1000 square feet of passive solar water heating. And even then I’d only get a kilowatt out of it at high noon. Pipe friction also becomes an issue so you need a pretty big diameter pipe for the rocker arm to minimize losses there.

    However, it was still tempting because it’s cheap to store low quality heat in a large insulated water tank so you can basically keep your solar heater going all day long heating a big holding tank and draw on that whenever you need to generate power. You can also add a burner to it (wood, gas, coal, whatever) to bring the water temperature up when the sun isn’t giving you enough energy. Even on a string of cloudy days you can revert to fire heated water to keep your electrical generation capacity in sync with demand. Unfortunately you need a few tens of thousands of gallons of hot water storage so we’re talking about a heat storage unit the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

    Alas the cost and space required to do all this just isn’t worth it when you’re connected to a grid with all the electricity you want at $0.11kwh 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year.
    But hey, at least I gave it the old college try. Commensurate with collegial spirit I cannabalized the experimental apparatus and made a great room temperature vacuum still that could turn a gallon of cheap wine into 1.5 pints of 100+ proof grape brandy and 3.5 quarts of denatured wine with no off flavors in about 15 minutes. Vacuum distillation with low quality heat, unlike electricity generated from low quality heat, was a ripping success. In fact I’m pretty sure I could generate electricity cheaper and more efficiently with low quality heat by growing grapes, using solar powered vacuum distillation to obtain high quality ethanol, and using the ethanol to fuel a portable internal combustion generator. Cheers.

  116. Michael Moon says:
    June 25, 2011 at 8:01 am
    Anthony,

    “275C is not waste heat. Most commercial steam turbines pull a vaccum on the last stage to get the last watt out of the steam, and the cooling is done at temps below 100C.”

    There’s a tradeoff. You DO NOT want water droplets hitting the final stage turbine blade tips at high velocity. This causes erosion and premature failure. The steam needs to be kept totally dry at the turbine outlet. Anything below about .5 bar is flirting with trouble as the pressure is not constant at all points within the cylinder. The cost of additional hardware to avoid droplet erosion is a case of diminishing returns.

    http://www.mechanicalengineering4u.com/?tag=steam-turbine

  117. Dave Springer:

    At June 25, 2011 at 7:08 am you assert:

    “Halving the cost of electricity is not a world altering event. If it were then we should have seen the opposite effect as the cost of petroleum quadrupled (or more) over the past two decades.”

    So, you think the “cost of petroleum quadrupled (or more) over the past two decades” has not inhibited industrial development? Evidence please.

    Cheap, available energy enables activities that expensive and/or unavailable energy prevents. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that development would have progressed faster if the cost of petroleum had not quadrupled (or more) over the past two decades.

    Room temperature superconductors would enable large scale electricity storage and that alone would dramatically reduce the need for power stations. Indeed, there is no activity that would not benefit from development of cheap and abundant room temperature superconductor materials.

    I add that your several and verbose posts are very strong on assertion but lacking in substance. We all have opinions: I have some that I have stated here. And debate of opinions is healthy. But portraying opinions as facts is not helpful.

    Richard

  118. Richard S Courtney says:
    June 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    “So, you think the “cost of petroleum quadrupled (or more) over the past two decades” has not inhibited industrial development? Evidence please.”

    Don’t put words in my mouth. Of course it inhibited industry. My point was that it didn’t cause a collapse of the industrial revolution. Your position that a room temperature superconductor will change the world more than the industrial revolution is absurd. Energy price is important but it isn’t THAT important. If it were industrial activity would have virtually ground to a halt when oil quadrupled in price over the past few decades. Cost of electricity is no more or less important than cost of oil.

    My patience with you is growing thin.

  119. Richard S Courtney says:
    June 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    “Room temperature superconductors would enable large scale electricity storage and that alone would dramatically reduce the need for power stations. Indeed, there is no activity that would not benefit from development of cheap and abundant room temperature superconductor materials.”

    What?

    That’s the same as saying having a piggy bank greatly reduces the need to earn money.

    Caution: Make sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.

  120. Power storage and transmission are probably the greatest single advantages that a suitable room temperature superconductor would provide. Other things that rely on superconductors, such as medical imaging systems, would get cheaper to build and operate too but the scale of power generation and distribution makes those much more important.

    Superconducting electrical storage rings were pop science at least as early as 30 years ago as evidenced by this January 1989 Popular Science Magazine cover story:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=sfQCZ2JhzawC&pg=PA66&lpg=PA66&dq=pop+science+superconducting+storage+ring&source=bl&ots=Or3e12srz7&sig=CN-YvvsWm1xBJXp26mBBzOgLnlU&hl=en&ei=82MMToLjIYictwfG5PDkDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA

    Of course it was never actually built and to this day remains pie in the sky.

    Storage and distribution of electricity are vexing problems for solar power generation schemes and energy density of batteries is a vexing problem for vehicular propulsion with electric drive motors. A superconducting storage battery would be a boon for electric cars and trucks but transportation is still transportation and internal combustion motors do a fine job at it. Electric vehicles have few if any cost advantages. Large scale storage would eliminate one problem with solar power generation in that excess power generated while the sun is shining could be economically stored to meet demand when the sun isn’t shining. It would also mitigate a second problem in that the best places to generate solar power are generally remote from point of consumption so a better transmission system would be helpful. As well, if people start using electric vehicles en masse the demand on the power grid would rise tremendously and the current grid couldn’t handle the increased load – it’s running close to capacity as it is. Room temperature superconductors that don’t break down under high current load would allow the existing to be upgraded enormously in capacity without changing the ground footprint of the tranmission pathways.

    But transmission losses today are only 10-20% of total losses so that constitutes a ceiling on how much efficiency can be gained through superconducting transmission lines. Electrical storage is effectively accomplished today through the fuels which drive the generators. It’s not instantaneous as superconductor storage rings would be but it’s pretty adequate nonetheless.

    One primary problem remains. Superconductors won’t help very much in the generation of electricity and unless you can generate more electricity storage and transmission improvements won’t help any more than buying a piggy bank will reduce the need to earn an income. Without an income there’s nothing to put into the bank.

    I was aware of all these things for decades as I’ve been reading a lot of general science articles for decades and superconductors have been popular science for decades. Given all my knowledge about the state of superconductor R&D and applications that would benefit from the holy grail represented by a cheap, ductile, room temperature superconductor that doesn’t stop superconducting in high magnetic fields and high current loads, I cannot for the life of me envision any application or combination of applications that would raise living standards more and for more people than the industrial revolution. For that matter I don’t think it would be any more important than the transister and solid state electronics and probably much less so.

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