The E1 thermoelectric generator, made by clean technology company Alphabet Energy, is for mining, oil and gas extractions, but its makers say that’s just the start
What if hot air could become electricity? That is the goal of clean technology startup company, Alphabet Energy, based in California. It has a new so-called thermoelectric material which it says can turn waste heat – such as that from car exhausts and industry – into usable electric power more cheaply and efficiently than ever before, saving both money and the environment. “It is the first really low-cost efficient thermoelectric material for waste heat recovery,” says CEO and founder Matthew Scullin.
The company puts the cost of tetrahedrite at about $4 per kilo compared to between $24 and $146 for other thermoelectric materials. Scullin says a thermoelectric system in cars today based on it could lead to net fuel and greenhouse emissions savings of up to 5%. That is double the saving other car prototypes have achieved to date, he says.
Jeff Snyder, a thermoelectrics expert at the California Institute of Technology, says little information is available publicly about the company’s tetrahedrite technology so it is hard to know if it is onto a breakthrough. But he added it was good to see a product like the E1 thermoelectric generator finally coming to market, though the cheap cost of fuel might make it hard to win traction. “Thermoelectric materials are great in principle,” he says. “The real reason it doesn’t get done is simply economics.”