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"Hotwired" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Researchers at Purdue University are developing a technique that uses nanotechnology to harvest energy from hot pipes or engine components to potentially recover energy wasted in factories, power plants and cars.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Want More Energy? Try Some Fiber.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

58 percent of the energy generated in the U.S. is wasted as heat. Think hot car engines. (Sound effect: car start) Now researchers at Purdue University are developing a technique that uses nanotechnology to potentially recover energy wasted in factories, power plants and cars.

The team is using flexible glass fibers coated with nanocrystals of a thermoelectric material, which, when heated on one side, causes electrons to flow to the cooler side--generating electric current. (Sound effect: sound of electric arc) Conventional devices that do this are formed from large discs or blocks, and require a large amount of material that is very brittle. The fibers need much less material, and can be wrapped around irregular shapes like engines and exhaust pipes.

Bonus! The process also works in reverse. Apply electrical current and the system absorbs heat and becomes a cooling device. No compressors or refrigerants required. In the future, the team hopes to use polymer fibers instead of glass--that could be woven into a fabric to make cooling garments.

The developers have applied for a patent on the fiber-coating concept, and want to make refinements to improve efficiency. A new way to generate energy from wasted heat is an energetic idea we can all warm up to.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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