The concept of waste-to-energy technology is certainly nothing new: we've covered it many times on TreeHugger over the past few years (see here and here for some examples) and continually see it be touted as one of the "next big things" in alternative energy production. And while the jury is still out (and will likely remain so) on that latter point, there is no denying that, when done right, there is a place for these technologies in a more sustainable, resource-conscious society - especially if it can be accomplished on the scale Clemson University physicist Terry Tritt is envisioning.
In an address to the NanoTX conference this year, Tritt argued that energy lost from hot engines - by some accounts more than 60% of the automotive combustion cycle's output - could be captured and converted into electricity with the help of thermoelectric devices. "Thermoelectric generators are currently used in NASA's deep-space probes to convert the heat of radioactive elements to electrical energy, powering these systems for over 30 years," he explained.Even with current thermoelectric technologies - whose efficiencies range from 7-8% - Tritt stated that over 1.5 billion gallons of diesel could be saved each year if applied to heavy trucks - translating to cost savings of several billions of dollars. His research, which focuses primarily on the use of solid-state materials for thermoelectric cooling and power generation (including narrow gap semiconductors and semimetals), has been funded by the Department of Energy.
Via ::Science Daily: Energy Lost From Hot Engines Could Save Billions If Converted Into Electricity (news website), ::Clemson University News: Clemson physicist addresses international forum on thermoelectric energy (news release)