With the completion of a successful prototype, engineers at Oregon State University have made a major step toward addressing one of the leading problems in energy use around the world today – the waste of half or more of the energy produced by cars, factories and power plants.
New technology is being developed at OSU to capture and use the low-to-medium grade waste heat that's now going out the exhaust pipe of millions of automobiles, diesel generators, or being wasted by factories and electrical utilities.
The potential cost savings, improved energy efficiency and broad application of such technology is enormous, experts say. The new systems now being perfected at OSU should be able to use much of that waste heat either in cooling or the production of electricity.
A prototype device has been finished to demonstrate the efficacy of this technology, and the findings just published in Applied Thermal Engineering, a professional journal.
"This could become a very important new energy source and way to improve energy efficiency," said Hailei Wang, a research associate in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU. "The prototype shows that these systems work as well as we expected they would."
More than half of the heat generated by industrial activities is now wasted, Wang said, and even very advanced electrical power plants only convert about 40 percent of the energy produced into electricity. The internal combustion engines of automobiles are even worse – they generally operate around 25-40 percent conversion efficiency. The very function of an automobile radiator is to dissipate wasted heat.