New technology turns heat directly into power

— 2:21 PM on June 12, 2007

EE Times has the skinny on a new technology co-developed by researchers in Utah, Washington, and Mississippi that promises to turn heat into electricity—directly so.

The team's so-called thermoacoustic prime mover consists of back-to-back heat exchangers with an intervening stack of materials tuned to a resonant acoustic frequency. When heat goes in, a resonant sound is generated and acoustically coupled to a piezoelectric transducer, which converts the sound into electricity.

The heat-driven electricity generator is an Army-funded project that aims to generate electricity while cooling radar systems. [University of Utah professor Orest Symko]'s group, in cooperation with Washington State University and the University of Mississippi, is investigating methods to improve the efficiency of their heat-driven acoustically coupled electricity generators. Ultimately, the idea is to also directly convert solar heat into electricity.

Harvesting energy from the sun and radar systems is only the tip of the iceberg, though. According to EE Times, Symko says the technology could be used to cool electronics in small portable devices. In such devices, this technology could presumably help increase battery life, as well.
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