Navigation Links
Microwave ovens a key to energy production from wasted heat

CORVALLIS, Ore. More than 60 percent of the energy produced by cars, machines, and industry around the world is lost as waste heat an age-old problem - but researchers have found a new way to make "thermoelectric" materials for use in technology that could potentially save vast amounts of energy.

And it's based on a device found everywhere from kitchens to dorm rooms: a microwave oven.

Chemists at Oregon State University have discovered that simple microwave energy can be used to make a very promising group of compounds called "skutterudites," and lead to greatly improved methods of capturing wasted heat and turning it into useful electricity.

A tedious, complex and costly process to produce these materials that used to take three or four days can now be done in two minutes.

Most people are aware you're not supposed to put metal foil into a microwave, because it will spark. But powdered metals are different, and OSU scientists are tapping into that basic phenomenon to heat materials to 1,800 degrees in just a few minutes on purpose, and with hugely useful results.

These findings, published in Materials Research Bulletin, should speed research and ultimately provide a more commercially-useful, low-cost path to a future of thermoelectric energy.

"This is really quite fascinating," said Mas Subramanian, the Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science at OSU. "It's the first time we've ever used microwave technology to produce this class of materials."

Thermoelectric power generation, researchers say, is a way to produce electricity from waste heat something as basic as the hot exhaust from an automobile, or the wasted heat given off by a whirring machine. It's been known of for decades but never really used other than in niche applications, because it's too inefficient, costly and sometimes the materials needed are toxic. NASA has used some expensive and high-tech thermoelectric generators to produce electricity in outer space.

The problem of wasted energy is huge. A car, for instance, wastes about two-thirds of the energy it produces. Factories, machines and power plants discard enormous amounts of energy.

But the potential is also huge. A hybrid automobile that has both gasoline and electric engines, for instance, would be ideal to take advantage of thermoelectric generation to increase its efficiency. Heat that is now being wasted in the exhaust or vented by the radiator could instead be used to help power the car. Factories could become much more energy efficient, electric utilities could recapture energy from heat that's now going up a smokestack. Minor applications might even include a wrist watch operated by body heat.

"To address this, we need materials that are low cost, non-toxic and stable, and highly efficient at converting low-grade waste heat into electricity," Subramanian said. "In material science, that's almost like being a glass and a metal at the same time. It just isn't easy. Because of these obstacles almost nothing has been done commercially in large scale thermoelectric power generation."

Skutterudites have some of the needed properties, researchers say, but historically have been slow and difficult to make. The new findings cut that production time from days to minutes, and should not only speed research on these compounds but ultimately provide a more affordable way to produce them on a mass commercial scale.

OSU researchers have created skutterudites with microwave technology with an indium cobalt antimonite compound, and believe others are possible. They are continuing research, and believe that ultimately a range of different compounds may be needed for different applications of thermoelectric generation.

Collaborators on this study included Krishnendu Biswas, a post-doctoral researcher, and Sean Muir, a doctoral candidate, both in the OSU Department of Chemistry. The work has been supported by both the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy.

"We were surprised this worked so well," Subramanian said. "Right now large-scale thermoelectric generation of electricity is just a good idea that we couldn't make work. In the future it could be huge."


Contact: Mas Subramanian
Oregon State University

Related biology news :

1. Non-wovens as scaffolds for artificial tissue
2. A guiding light for new directions in energy production
3. Testing the water for bioenergy crops
4. UGA symposium explores extreme microbes’ bioenergy potential
5. USDA and DOE fund 10 research projects to accelerate bioenergy crop production
6. Carnegie Mellon scientists discover how molecular motors go into energy save mode
7. NTU unveils new center to develop solar cells and clean energy systems of tomorrow
8. Colugos glide to save time, not energy
9. Researchers find potential key for unlocking biomass energy
10. University of Kentucky-led research could be path to new energy sources
11. Virginia Tech Coal and Energy Center selected for study of CO2 injection into storage reservoirs
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/26/2015)... Research and Markets ( ) has ... - Technology and Patent Infringement Risk Analysis" report ... --> Fingerprint sensors using capacitive technology represent ... sensor vendor Idex forecasts an increase of 360% of ... and of the fingerprint sensor market between 2014 and ...
(Date:11/20/2015)... 2015 NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or ... growing mobile commerce market and creator of the Wocket® ... was recently interviewed on The RedChip Money Report ... weekend on Bloomberg Europe , Bloomberg Asia, Bloomberg ... NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or the "Company"), a biometric ...
(Date:11/19/2015)... Calif. , Nov. 19, 2015  Based on ... Frost & Sullivan recognizes BIO-key with the 2015 Global ... Each year, Frost & Sullivan presents this award to ... line catering to the needs of the market it ... product line meets and expands on customer base demands, ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... 2015 2 nouvelles études permettent d ... les différences entre les souches bactériennes retrouvées dans la plaque ... êtres humains . Ces recherches  ouvrent une nouvelle ... en charge efficace de l,un des problèmes de ... .    --> 2 nouvelles études permettent ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... November 25, 2015 , ... A long-standing partnership between the ... has been formalized with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. , AMA ... Capt. Karl Minter and Capt. Albert Glenn Tuesday, November 24, 2015, at AMA ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... N.J. (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... The ... the recipient of the 2016 USGA Green Section Award. Presented annually since 1961, the ... through his or her work with turfgrass. , Clarke, of Iselin, N.J., ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering ... premier annual events for pharmaceutical manufacturing: 2015 Annual Meeting. The conference took place ... the largest number of attendees in more than a decade. , “The ...
Breaking Biology Technology: