This diagram shows the stages of operation of a battery designed for heat harvesting. 1) Battery is heated so that its voltage becomes lower. 2) Battery is charged at high temperature, using low voltage. 3) Battery is cooled down, causing its voltage to become higher. 4) The battery is discharged at low temperature, with the high voltage. The voltage difference in the output comes from heat that was absorbed in the process. Courtesy of the authors.
Vast amounts of excess heat are generated by industrial processes and by electric power plants; researchers around the world have spent decades seeking ways to harness some of this wasted energy.
Now researchers at MIT and Stanford University have found a new alternative for low-temperature waste-heat conversion into electricity — that is, in cases where temperature differences are less than 100 degrees Celsius.
The new approach, based on a phenomenon called the thermogalvanic effect, is described in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications by postdoc Yuan Yang and professor Gang Chen at MIT, postdoc Seok Woo Lee and professor Yi Cui at Stanford, and three others.
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