A small team of Monash University researchers working under the Australian Research Council (ARC) Center of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) has developed an ionic liquid-based thermoelectric cell.

Thermoelectric cell technology is based on harnessing the thermal energy from the difference in temperature between two surfaces and converting that energy into electricity.

Thermoelectric Cell with Ionic Lquid Electrolyte Diagram.  Click image for more info.

Thermoelectric Cell with Ionic Lquid Electrolyte Diagram. Click image for more info.

The Aussie’s breakthrough could make harvesting waste heat from power stations and even vehicle exhaust pipes possible and could soon provide a valuable supply of electricity from energy now simply lost to the atmosphere.

Led by Monash University researcher and Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Doug MacFarlane and Monash University PhD student Theodore Abraham, the collaborative project developed the thermoelectric cell device with the highest power outputs yet reported and the thermocell adds no carbon emissions.

The new thermoelectric cell could be used to generate electricity from low-grade steam in coal fired power stations at temperatures around 130°C (266ºF). This would be implemented by having the steam pass over the outer surface of the hot electrode to keep it hot while the other electrode is air or water-cooled.  As innovation is applied other waste heat sources could be recovered and converted to electric power.

Professor MacFarlane explained the breakthrough included the development of a novel ionic liquid-based redox electrolyte.  “We have found that it can work at elevated temperatures typical of important heat sources, as opposed to water-based systems, which cannot operate at temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius,” he said.  “The device offers the possibility of a cheap and flexible design suitable for harvesting waste heat in the 100- to 200-degrees Celsius range.”
PhD student Theodore Abraham said that by using heat already produced in industrial processes that would otherwise be untapped, the thermocell is an attractive method of relieving some of the present reliance on fossil fuels.

“The major benefit of a thermocell is that it harnesses energy that is already readily out there; you’re just harnessing energy that is otherwise lost to surroundings,” Mr. Abraham said.

Mr. Abraham was supervised by Dr Jenny Pringle of Deakin University who said the development was a significant achievement for a PhD student.

“The advance we made with this system was that we are generating more electrical energy than any previous power cell in this temperature range,” Dr Pringle said.

ACES Director Professor Gordon Wallace said that it took a multitude of skills to tackle complex issues as encountered here.  “Our unique research environment within ACES provides an opportunity to acquire these skills in a cutting edge research environment,” he said.

Abraham’s research is published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.  The full paper is available free with a registration.

This is a fine example of creative and determined intelligence applied to a massive problem.  Huge amounts of energy are just lost as heat from transport in cars, trucks, rail and the factories, buildings and homes across the planet.

The press release isn’t estimating the saving or offering numbers, which is rather refreshing.  With the free access to the paper many folks can replicate the work and more minds an only expand the technology’s database.

The basic test rig that Abraham shows in the video makes clear the adaptation potential is unlimited today.  Chase this, make a market and a fortune could be made.

No numbers is refreshing, but soon an application will come us that will show us how much fuel that was being lost becomes a revenue source or added cost cutter.

There is also the matter of the fundamental design.  Its not a rigid brittle solid, rather it is a pair of heat conductive surfaces with an Ionic Liquid electrolyte core.  That also raises some very interesting design ideas.

This is good, important and exciting work and sound congratulations are in order.  More work!  More papers, Please!


1 Comment so far

  1. Marc de Piolenc on August 27, 2013 7:11 PM

    I am unable to register on the RSC site, and I can’t find a link to anyone who can help. The only obvious problem is that the graphic array that is supposed to prove that I’m a human being does not appear, so I am unable to enter the information found there. Disappointing…

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