We've talked about passive energy generation before, but those devices pulled minuscule amounts of power from heat or vibration. Eneco, a company I've never heard of before, has created a solid-state (no moving parts) device that converts heat to electricity with 30% efficiency. The device consists (very basically) of two pieces of metal sandwiching some kind of mystery semiconductor. The trick is that one piece of metal is specially designed to lose electrons when heated, and the other is designed to accept them at a lower temperature. If electricity is applied to the chip, the bottom piece of metal becomes extremely cold, if heat is applied to the bottom piece of metal, electricity comes out.
The first applications are obvious ones. Off-grid electricity for pipeline monitoring (pipelines are usually quite hot to keep the oil flowing well.) But the possibilities for the automotive and consumer electronics industries excite me much more. We all know about waste heat from our laptops. All that wasted heat means a hot lap and less battery time. But the Eneco device promises to harness a lot of that energy and turn it into heat. The result is longer battery life and less heat produced. The same goes for cars, which lose a ton of their energy as heat, and even for fossil fuel power plants, which lose up to half of the energy created as heat.
Eneco is already in talks with BMW, Apple, Dell, the US Military and NASA. There's no word yet on how much the devices will cost, or what dangerous materials they might or might not use, but the technology sounds extremely promising. Representatives say that the first devices will be in use by 2008, but the time line for consumer devices is unspecified.
Via Green ITWeek
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