Tiny Generators Turn Waste Heat into Power

September 28, 2010 – 2:55 pm

A joint team of Ukrainian and US scientists have proposed a novel “pyroelectric” method to power tiny devices using waste heat. Using structures known as ferroelectric nanowires, they can rapidly generate an electrical current in response to any change in the ambient temperature, harvesting otherwise wasted energy from thermal fluctuations. Their report appears in the Journal of Applied Physics.

The research is inspired by the second law of thermodynamics, which, roughly stated, predicts that concentrations of energy tend to disperse over time in an isolated system. ”The second law of thermodynamics rules modern life: Through all kinds of industry, humans consistently produce an enormous amount of waste heat,” explains lead researcher Anna Morozovska of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. “However, the laws of thermodynamics do not exclude rescuing some of this energy by harvesting the thermal fluctuations to produce electricity.”

Pyroelectrictricity can play key role in electronics, says Morozovska, and recovering this heat in the form of pyroelectric energy may bring about a new era of “tiny energy.” Pyroelectric nanogenerators could be extremely useful for powering specific tasks in biological applications, medicine and nanotechnology.

Read the abstract related to the research from the Journal of Applied Physics.

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