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Thermo Electric Uses

We put lot of sweat and engineering to produce energy which runs our lives, but as much as two thirds of this energy gets dissipated as waste, particularly in the form of heat. Recent reports show that a new material can bridge the gap between energy produced and wastage through heat.

An international team of researchers has developed a new material which generates charges from the temperature variations across its two ends. These thermo electric materials, when commercialised, will find their place in a variety of applications.

Let’s take a simple example. A car drinks a lot of energy to run its engine and exhausts hot air through its tailpipe. When the tailpipe is designed with these thermo electric materials the hot gas from the car can be used to generate electricity before it reaches the free space, thus we can make use of this electricity and therefore make the car more efficient.

Using this in a car is a simple example but these kinds of materials can be used in almost all electric appliances as they produce heat, it is just the magnitude that varies from appliance to appliance. This type of energy production is not new to the industry, even the space hero “Mars curiosity” gets its power from the radioactive isotope plutonium-238, and as long as the element produces heat the rover will be alive.

Just like using it in car tailpipes we can use these materials in places where heat is exhausted as waste but these materials have some hurdles to cross before they are used commercially. Firstly, the efficiency of these materials is less and although they use waste as heat they can retain only 10% of the energy. Latest researches have improved efficiency by using ‘Lead Telluride’. This is twice the efficiency than when regular materials are used but the problem using lead telluride is that is toxic and therefore is hard to commercialize.

The laws of thermodynamics clearly say that there will be always some waste as heat and we can’t completely ignore this heat when we can get something out of it.

Sources:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7416/full/nature11439.html

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