John Galt was a Hack! U Minn's Metal Turns Heat into Electricity

John Galt is the engineering/physics/philosophic genius of Ayn Rand’s me-generation-enabling novel, Atlas Shrugged, who was able to usher in a monopolistic utopia by virtue of an electricity-generating MacGuffin which drew usable power from the static electricity in the air.  A neat enough idea – but nothing quite as cool as this:  electricity from heat.

Possible?  Try:  done!

“Multiferroic”  is the buzz-word in a series of studies done by researchers at the University of Minnesota, who claim that they’ve mixed a new alloy which is able to convert heat directly into electricity.

“This research … presents an entirely new method for energy conversion that’s never been done before,” said U of M aerospace mechanics professor Richard James, who – in addition to having one of the awesomeest (that’s a word) professional titles possible, gets to say “I’m Rick James, b****!” and mean it – led the research team in creating the new metal. “It’s also the ultimate ‘green’ way to create electricity because it uses waste heat to create electricity with no (additional) carbon dioxide.”

Rick James‘ team (yeah, I’m running with that) demonstrated that their new alloy begins as a non-magnetic material, then suddenly becomes strongly magnetic as its temperature rises.  The alloy, as it absorbs heat, then spontaneously produces electricity in a surrounding coil – which, in practical applications, could turn the heat energy of a conventional brake system into electricity without the need for expensive regenerative systems, like those currently used by KERS systems in upcoming Volvos or F1 cars, or those found in “conventional” plug-ins like the Nissan Leaf.

Surely, just about any instance of excess heat could become a source for electrical energy with a few clever applications of this tech.  Example:  the tea kettle, after all, stays hot for a long time after my tea is done … Bam!  Electricity.  All the heat generated in the metallic blocks of internal combustion engines?  Bam!  Electricity – which could, then, be used to power a car’s batteries more efficiently or, through some twiddling of wireless charging tech, feed power back into the grid for the EVs following the ICE car to soak up (waste not, after all).  This doesn’t even take into account the bump in efficiency something like this could give to gas-powered generators at hospitals or on military/rescue vehicles.

This is big, in other words, and a fantastic result from exactly the kind of “pure research” institution Rand lobbies against in Atlas Shrugged.  Gotta love those “big win” days!

Check out UMinn’s official press release, below.

University of Minnesota engineering researchers discover source for generating ‘green’ electricity

University of Minnesota engineering researchers in the College of Science and Engineering have recently discovered a new alloy material that converts heat directly into electricity. This revolutionary energy conversion method is in the early stages of development, but it could have wide-sweeping impact on creating environmentally friendly electricity from waste heat sources.

Researchers say the material could potentially be used to capture waste heat from a car’s exhaust that would heat the material and produce electricity for charging the battery in a hybrid car. Other possible future uses include capturing rejected heat from industrial and power plants or temperature differences in the ocean to create electricity. The research team is looking into possible commercialization of the technology.

“This research is very promising because it presents an entirely new method for energy conversion that’s never been done before,” said University of Minnesota aerospace engineering and mechanics professor Richard James, who led the research team.”It’s also the ultimate ‘green’ way to create electricity because it uses waste heat to create electricity with no carbon dioxide.”

To create the material, the research team combined elements at the atomic level to create a new multiferroic alloy, Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10. Multiferroic materials combine unusual elastic, magnetic and electric properties. The alloy Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10 achieves multiferroism by undergoing a highly reversible phase transformation where one solid turns into another solid. During this phase transformation the alloy undergoes changes in its magnetic properties that are exploited in the energy conversion device.

During a small-scale demonstration in a University of Minnesota lab, the new material created by the researchers begins as a non-magnetic material, then suddenly becomes strongly magnetic when the temperature is raised a small amount. When this happens, the material absorbs heat and spontaneously produces electricity in a surrounding coil. Some of this heat energy is lost in a process called hysteresis. A critical discovery of the team is a systematic way to minimize hysteresis in phase transformations. The team’s research was recently published in the first issue of the new scientific journalAdvanced Energy Materials.

Watch a short research video of the new material suddenly become magnetic when heated: http://z.umn.edu/conversionvideo.

In addition to Professor James, other members of the research team include University of Minnesota aerospace engineering and mechanics post-doctoral researchers Vijay Srivastava and Kanwal Bhatti, and Ph.D. student Yintao Song. The team is also working with University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science professor Christopher Leighton to create a thin film of the material that could be used, for example, to convert some of the waste heat from computers into electricity.

“This research crosses all boundaries of science and engineering,” James said. “It includes engineering, physics, materials, chemistry, mathematics and more. It has required all of us within the university’s College of Science and Engineering to work together to think in new ways.”

Source:  Popular Science.

 

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.