Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Popular Mechanics -

In the quest to har­ness re­new­able en­ergy, ther­mo­electrics have been boxed out by so­lar pan­els and wind farms. With good rea­son: Ther­mo­elec­tric gen­er­a­tors, which cre­ate elec­tric­ity from a dif­fer­ence in tem­per­a­ture, have been ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult to de­ploy. The Mars Cu­rios­ity rover uses one to draw power from a ra­dioac­tive heat source and the cold of Mars, but you wouldn’t want a pack of de­cay­ing plu­to­nium iso­topes recharg­ing your phone. Now, re­searchers at MIT pro­fes­sor Michael Strano’s lab have found a way to cre­ate a heat dif­fer­ence for ther­mo­elec­tric power from daily tem­per­a­ture swings in a de­vice they call a ther­mal res­onator. It uses two lay­ers around a ther­mo­elec­tric core that are en­gi­neered to change tem­per­a­ture at dif­fer­ent rates so that they’re never the same. A suit­case-like pro­to­type ( pic­tured) on the roof of the lab build­ing pro­duced 1.3 mil­li­watts of power from an av­er­age day’s 10°C swing. That out­put may be small, but the tech­nol­ogy can be scaled up for low-wattage elec­tron­ics, says Strano. His lab has al­ready re­ceived a grant to build a res­onator-pow­ered com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work for dis­as­ter zones that will al­low first re­spon­ders to com­mu­ni­cate with­out a work­ing power grid.

MIT’S pro­to­type gen­er­a­tor.

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