Recycle heat to electricity with ultracentrifed liquids

 By circulating liquids in charged nanoscale channels, it is possible to convert heat into electricity as efficiently as the best thermoelectric materials.

When subjected to a temperature difference, a nanofluidic channel can generate electricity , with a performance comparable to that of the best thermoelectric solids.
© ILM (CNRS / University of Lyon 1)

The materials solid thermoelectric can convert a temperature difference into electric energy . They thus constitute an important energy resource for the years to come. However, the best performing materials are rare, expensive and often toxic. Physicists of theInstitut light material in Lyon (. CNRS / University Lyon 1) explored an alternative possibility: using nanofluidic channels confining the water salty. Such systems have received much attention recently because they are able to produce electricity from the osmotic energy of seawater . This "blue energy" comes from the phenomenon of osmosis , that is to say the spontaneous flow of the liquid from the most concentrated to the least concentrated medium. But the application of these devices for recycling in heat electricity lost by many industrial processes in electricity is only beginning to be studied. This lower interest is explained by the standard image of the thermoelectricity of charged liquids, developed in the 1980s, and which predicted performance far below that of thermoelectric materials.

Scientists have tested these models using simulations of the behavior of matter at the atomic level. In this type of simulation, the motion of each atom is explicitly described, which allows to measure independently the influence of the various parameters (interactions with the walls, electrostatic contribution) on the movement of the atoms and therefore of the electric current.. Against all odds, they showed that the performance of nanofluidic systems was a hundred times better than the predictions of standard models, and could be comparable to those of the best thermoelectric solid materials. This work demonstrates the potential of nanofluidic systems, and by understanding their mechanisms, they can serve as a guide for the development of high performance devices, a cost-effective and non-toxic alternative to thermoelectric materials.



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