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Electricity from waste heat

Turning waste heat from buildings, and even vehicles, into electricity is being explored by researchers at Denmark’s Risø DTU.

By Renewable Energy Focus staff

The Danish Council for Strategic Research has granted almost DKK18 million to the project OTE POWER (oxide thermoelectric for effective power generation from waste heat) for a 4-year period.

The project is looking into using oxide materials (known from fuel cells) as the thermoelectric elements.

The project has three major parts:

  • Development of thermoelectric oxide materials of n- and p-type;
  • Integrate the various components in a module that can convert heat into electricity; and
  • Integrating the module into a thermoelectric converter system.

Thermoelectric materials

Thermoelectric materials work by exploiting the difference of temperature on each side of a semiconductor material. Electrons move from the hot side to the cold and thus transform heat into electricity.

The requirements for a thermoelectric material are tough as it must have high thermoelectric power, be stable at high temperatures, and consist of non-toxic and inexpensive materials that can be easily shaped.

“There are quite obvious benefits of this technology, but until now the technology has not been effective enough for industry to be involved. Some of the technological challenges are materials, processes and integration into existing systems.

“We hope that with this project we can get closer to brining this technology to the market that ultimately may also help to reduce CO2 emissions significantly,” says the project’s coordinator Nini Pryds from the Fuel Cells and Solid State Chemistry Division.

Potential uses

Risø DTU says the technology can be used in many places.

It could be mounted on a car’s exhaust pipe or on top of a stove in a living-room. When the material on one side comes into contact with the hot exhaust or the stove’s hot metal, it will cause increased thermal motion in the electrons, making them move from the hot to the cold side – generating electricity.

Project partners are Risø DTU, Aalborg University, Aarhus University, Kyushuy University of Japan and Caltech from the USA. There are also five industry partners.

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