MIT Team Develops Energy Generator That Captures Temperature Fluctuation

Scientists from MIT have developed a system which has the potential to enable continuous, enduring remote sensing systems without requiring any additional power sources or even batteries.  Essentially, this could lead to another method for generating and harvesting renewable energy, this time using temperature swings.

The 9-fold MIT Department of Chemical Engineering team—including graduate student Anton Cottrill, Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering Michael Strano—then, have unveiled a new device which converts daily temperature fluctuations along the day-night cycle into straightforward electrical power.  And all this without the need to input the two different temperature inputs, simultaneously.

Strano explains, “We basically invented this concept out of whole cloth. We’ve built the first thermal resonator. It’s something that can sit on a desk and generate energy out of what seems like nothing. We are surrounded by temperature fluctuations of all different frequencies all of the time. These are an untapped source of energy.”

Obviously, this new system is still very new, so the power level generation is only still modest.  At the same time, the modest system shows great promise as this includes a thermal resonator that does not require direct sunlight to function. This means it will not be hindered by short-term temperature changes like cloud cover and wind conditions.  In addition, the thermal resonator actually outperformed a commercial pyroelectric material of identical size by at least three times in regards to power per area.

Strano conclude:  “We’re surrounded by temperature variations and fluctuations, but they haven’t been well-characterized in the environment,” partly because we don’t know how to harness them.

For the experiment, though, the team basically custom-made materials from metal foam made out of copper or nickel and then coated with graphene, as well as a wax called octadecane.

“They want orthogonal energy sources,” Cottrill says, materials which are entirely independent of each other. This can include things like fossil fuel generators or solar panels; and then you also need this new thermal-cycle power device. Altogether, then, “if one part fails,” like if a solar panels is left in darkness by a sandstorm for too long, “you’ll have this additional mechanism to give power, even if it’s just enough to send out an emergency message.”

The research has been published in the journal Science.

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