Ohio State Researchers Capture “Waste Heat” in New Experiment

The same researchers who pioneered the use of a quantum mechanical effect to convert heat into electricity have figured out how to make their technique work in a form more suitable to industry.

Many electrical and mechanical devices, such as car engines, produce heat as a byproduct of their normal operation. It’s called “waste heat,” and its existence is required by the fundamental laws of thermodynamics.

But a growing area of research called solid-state thermoelectrics aims to capture that waste heat inside specially designed materials to generate power and increase overall energy efficiency.

In Nature Communications, engineers from The Ohio State University describe how they used magnetism on a composite of nickel and platinum to amplify the voltage output 10 times or more – not in a thin film, as they had done previously, but in a thicker piece of material that more closely resembles components for future electronic devices.

In this latest advance, they’ve increased the output for a composite of two very common metals, nickel with a sprinkling of platinum, from a few nanovolts to tens or hundreds of nanovolts – a smaller voltage, but in a much simpler device that requires no nanofabrication and can be readily scaled up for industry.

While the composite is not yet part of a real-world device, Researchers are confident the proof-of-principle established by this study will inspire further research that may lead to applications for common waste heat generators, including car and jet engines. The idea is very general, he added, and can be applied to a variety of material combinations, enabling entirely new approaches that don’t require expensive metals like platinum or delicate processing procedures like thin-film growth.