Using a new process, researchers have succeeded in converting waste heat into electricity much more efficiently. As a result, wasted energy could be recovered to relieve the power grids. The backgrounds.
The energy transition poses major challenges. On the one hand, the demand for electricity is increasing, while on the other hand, energy is wasted because it is not available in the desired form.
For example, large amounts of thermal energy that are generated during waste incineration but cannot be used by consumers as district heating or electricity are lost.
Another reason for this is that the conversion of thermal energy into electricity has only a very modest degree of efficiency. However, a team of researchers from NIST and the University of Colorado wants to change that.
New process efficiently converts waste heat into electricity
If all goes according to plan, the method could save the US energy sector alone $100 billion a year. To make this work, the researchers lined up hundreds of thousands of microscopic cells made of gallium nitride on a silicon wafer. They then removed the silicon so far that only a thin layer remained.
The research team then wrapped the silicon gallium nitride sheets around pipes that used vapor to transport thermal energy. The innovative gallium nitride layer means that heat is transferred to the silicon much more slowly. The material therefore has significantly more time to convert the incoming heat into electricity.
Researchers want to further optimize the process
In addition to use in power plants, the researchers also see potential use in cooling computer chips. However, further experiments are necessary before it can be used across the board in industry.
In the next step, the researchers want to work on structures that are based exclusively on silicon and have a better structure. Then the production could be scaled better and the industry could use the material in their factories. In the end, the environment also benefits from this, since the energy that is already available is better used.