April 17, 2012 by Emil Venere
This image shows glass fibers coated with a thermoelectric material that generates electrical current when exposed to heat. The technology might be used to harvest energy from hot pipes or engine components, possibly representing a way to recover energy wasted in factories, power plants and cars. Credit: Purdue University photo/Scott W. Finefrock
(Phys.org) -- Researchers 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.
"The ugly truth is that 58 percent of the energy generated in the United States is wasted as heat," said Yue Wu, a Purdue University assistant professor of chemical engineering. "If we could get just 10 percent back that would allow us to reduce energy consumption and power plant emissions considerably."
Researchers have coated glass fibers with a new "thermoelectric" material they developed. When thermoelectric materials are heated on one side electrons flow to the cooler side, generating an electrical current.
Coated fibers also could be used to create a solid-state cooling technology that does not require compressors and chemical refrigerants. The fibers might be woven into a fabric to make cooling garments.