Engineers at Yale have just come up with a simple yet amazing way to utilize energy from low-temperature heat waste.
Credit: MIT News
Power plants consume loads of energy and, in turn, produce alarming amounts of waste and pollution. While environmentalists typically focus on renewable energy methods so that no waste is produced to begin with, converting those byproducts into something useful is an equally sustainable practice.
Yale engineers recently revolutionized the sustainable biofuel industry by figuring out how to “capture” low-temperature heat waste, before it becomes “waste,” according to Yale’s website
. A quick rundown of what heat actually is
will be helpful in understanding the magnitude of this accomplishment. Heat is the transfer of energy
from an entity to its surroundings (like air), and heat naturally flows from a hotter area to a colder area (hence why putting your icy hands around a hot cup of cocoa on a winter’s day feels so nice; the heat is traveling from the hotter mug to your colder hands).
Now, it’s not difficult to take advantage of high
-temperature heat waste, because this waste is so hot that it’s setting atoms into motions at high speeds
, which, of course, means tons of energy ripe for the picking. Low
-temperature heat is more difficult to utilize efficiently since there is less energy transferred between the source and its environment.
However, these Yale researchers, consisting of both doctoral students and professors (their names, as well as an abstract of their work, can be found here
) found a clean way to stop this energy from going to waste. Yale’s website explains how the engineers created a membrane made of ultra-thin polymers and fibers, about as thick as a piece of paper.
This membrane works by using water particles. The heat produced (by a power plant’s processes) goes in one end of the membrane, and the water particles inside the membrane heat up and evaporate. Then, because heat travels from a hotter area to a colder area, the water particles condense on the other side of the membrane. This flow of energy is “directed to a turbine to generate electricity,” says Yale News.
So much heat waste is low-temperature and, before now, the amount of energy this waste contained was too low to be captured with an efficient result. “Low-temperature heat is produced massively,” confirms science site Phys.org
That’s why it’s such an important untapped energy resource. Well, not anymore, now that the environmental heroes over at Yale tapped that. There’s nothing hotter than renewable energy, baby.
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