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Super Soaker Inventor Hopes to Double Solar Efficiency

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the if-they-get-too-hot-we-can-super-soak-them dept.

Power 288

mattnyc99 writes "With top geeks saying photovoltaic cells are still four years away from costing as much as the grid, and the first U.S. thermal power plant just getting into production, there's plenty of solar hype without any practical solution that's efficient enough. Until Lonnie Johnson came along. The man who invented the Super Soaker water gun turns out to be a nuclear engineer who's developed a solid-state heat engine that converts the sun's heat to electricity at 60-percent efficiency—double the rate of the next most successful solar process. And his innovation, called the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion (JTEC) system, is getting funding from the National Science Foundation, so this is no toy. From the article: 'If it proves feasible, drastically reducing the cost of solar power would only be a start. JTEC could potentially harvest waste heat from internal combustion engines and combustion turbines, perhaps even the human body. And no moving parts means no friction and fewer mechanical failures.'"

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288 comments

And... (-1, Troll)

professional_troll (1178701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976764)

Yet the fag is still responsible for inventing one of the biggest water wasters in history

Re:And... (0, Redundant)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976814)

well. at least its a FUN way to waste water, vs letting your toilet run, or your faucet drip, or ignore that leaky pipe in your lawn's sprinkler system that uses up 20,000 dollars worth of water in 2 months and creates a cavern twice the size of your house under your front lawn. (yes, that happened to someone i know) here's to hoping the heat engine thinger-ma-bob works as described.

Re:And... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21976932)

"at least its a FUN way to waste water",

hehehe, fishtank for toilet cistern resevour.

Re:And... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977008)

How the FUCK does that happen?

Please post pictures.

Re:And... (0, Flamebait)

thyrf (1059934) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976952)

You obviously never finished school because you've never heard of the water cycle, so shut the hell up and go back to getting my fries.

Re:And... (3, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976978)

I can guarantee that the water wasted from super soakers is nowhere near the amount wasted by poorly aimed sprinklers watering cement.

Re:And... (0, Offtopic)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977264)

...and I can guarantee that the whole idea of "wasting water" is ridiculous in the first place. Where do people think "wasted" water goes? When it evaporates, it comes back as rain; when it soaks into the ground, it is transpired by plant life, and again evaporates and comes back as rain; when it goes into the sewer system, it dilutes the sewage, makes it easier to process, is replaced into the groundwater, evaporates, comes back as rain...

The only way you can really "waste" water is to convert it into hydrogen and oxygen. Even then, we'll probably get it back eventually.

The only thing being "wasted" here is the money you pay the city to process that water so that when you super-soak the other person, you don't hand them a bunch of water-bourne disease vectors in the process. But it is your money.

Now, if you've gone and plopped yourself down where there isn't enough water for the population and industrial loading... that'd be your fault. Guess you'll just have to grit your teeth.

Re:And... (4, Informative)

evilviper (135110) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977898)

That's a nice theory, but it doesn't actually work in practice.

There is a limit to how much water is naturally evaporated from the ocean each year (far, far less than we're dumping into it) and rained down onto solid ground. There is a limit to how quickly water absorbed by the soil will leech down into the aquifers it was drawn from (it takes centuries) and that's where most of our water supplies comes from.

And as for location, there's no place on earth where the rainfall would possibly exceed the needs of a densely packed urban population, without conservation. The troubles Atlanta is having are just a start. Being located in the desert merely brings the problem to the forefront more quickly.

Look at the farm-packed interior of the US, and you'll find ridiculous quantities of water being used, all drawn from a gigantic aquifer, which is now being dramatically drawn down, with no sign of replenishment. You're welcome to go tell them they're just imagining it, when they run out of water supplies.

I'd gamble that, over the next decade, cities all across the US will have to begin copying the water conservation measures that have long been in-use in the southwest. And if they don't, the cost of water is going to go through the roof, as the expense for finding new supplies, and building new recycling facilities, goes through the roof.

Re:And... (5, Funny)

Neo Quietus (1102313) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978134)

And as for location, there's no place on earth where the rainfall would possibly exceed the needs of a densely packed urban population, without conservation.
I present to you Seattle, WA.

Re:And... (1)

mandolin (7248) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977688)

...and I can guarantee that the whole idea of "wasting water" is ridiculous in the first place. Where do people think "wasted" water goes? When it evaporates, it comes back as rain; when it soaks into the ground, it is transpired by plant life, and again evaporates and comes back as rain; when it goes into the sewer system, it dilutes the sewage, makes it easier to process, is replaced into the groundwater, evaporates, comes back as rain...

If you live in a place like Palm Desert, CA, fed only by an aquifer that recharges incredibly slowly, you should see the problem better -- basically, local conditions sometimes cannot sustain the amount of water draw from the given local resources.

Re:And... (1)

mandolin (7248) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977738)

Oops, you addressed that. Damnit, that'll teach me to read the entire post. I still contend it's easier to find a non-overloaded place when people aren't being stupid with the water they've got.

Re:And... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977168)

Well, fill a supersoaker with a caustic solution and you have quite the fun flesh-melting weapon.

Not sure about this... (3, Interesting)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976810)

As an excerpt from his web page states;

"On the high-pressure side of the MEA, hydrogen gas is oxidized resulting in the creation of protons and electrons"
Shouldn't that be ionized?

Re:Not sure about this... (5, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976844)

Well, if he's oxidizing his hydrogen, I'd have to say he's all wet.

Re:Not sure about this... (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977042)

Exactly his plan! He then shoots the water out of a super soaker into a turbine, causing it to move and creating electricity!

probably meant in a more narrow technical sense (5, Informative)

StandardDeviant (122674) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976908)

It may be "oxidized" as in the opposite to "reduced". See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redox [wikipedia.org]

(I haven't RTFA to figure out for sure, but if they're talking "hydrogen" on one side of a reaction and "proton/electron" on the other, it seems plausible on first blush.)

Re:probably meant in a more narrow technical sense (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977584)

It's a sad day on /. when a "I haven't RTFA" comment consisting of a wikipedia link gets modded +5 informative. Especially when that comment is wrong: it's clear from TFA and from the parent that it's ionization they're talking about. Posting anonymous because the mods are not doing their job correctly.

not exactly :) (4, Informative)

StandardDeviant (122674) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978144)

No, I was merely pointing out that "oxidized" doesn't have to mean "oxygen" or "that crud you think of on old metal", that in fact there is a technical meaning to the term the average software engineer who took one freshman level science course a decade ago -- which may not have even been chemistry -- might not connect with. Ionization and oxidation/reduction are in fact closely related terms, which the wikipedia link was meant to illustrate. If you compare the two entries ("Redox" and "Ionization"), I think you'll see the connection. Describing the process as oxidation and the effect as ionization is not a priori incorrect.

Re:Not sure about this... (3, Informative)

BlendieOfIndie (1185569) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977362)

From TFA

The engine does not require oxygen or a continuous fuel supply, only heat.

This might just mean that oxygen is not consumed, while it could also mean the system contains no oxygen.
But also...

On the high-pressure side of the MEA, hydrogen gas is oxidized resulting in the creation of protons and electrons... On the low-pressure side, the protons are reduced with the electrons to reform hydrogen gas.

Here it looks like the article describes the reaction: H => e- P+ => H
So I think you might be right: oxidize is equivalent to ionize

Re:Not sure about this... (2, Informative)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977784)

It's equivalent, but more precise -- something that you might want and expect in a nuclear engineer. Some atoms oxidize to form ions, and others reduce to form ions. He's just specifying the particular direction.

Oxidization (1)

Z34107 (925136) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977760)

Shouldn't that be ionized [not oxidized]?

It's been a while since I took chemistry, but "oxidized" means increasing in oxidation number. (Doesn't have anything to do with oxygen.) I forget all the things that oxidation number thingy, but gaining an electron is one of them. So, they're similar.

Would someone knowledgable tell me if all ionization is oxidization?

Re:Oxidization (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977998)

Would someone knowledgable tell me if all ionization is oxidization?

They overlap incompletely.

You can obtain ions by oxidation. You can also obtain ions by reduction.

However, many reactions involve pairs of oxidations and reductions, leading to no change in charge, and thus no ions.

HTH.

Also, mod parent up, just because they both start with "Ox" doesn't mean they have much to do with each other beyond the fact that Oxygen is a decent oxidizer.

Re:Not sure about this... (3, Interesting)

secPM_MS (1081961) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978138)

My snake oil sensors are going off. To be blunt, I don't believe. Theoretical Carnot cycle limits on efficiency due to temperature differences (such as human body to air) are very low. This is what limited the ocean thermal energy systems, as the efficiencies were low and the amounts of matter you had to move past your heat exchanger were very large. The 60% number came from a high concentrator temperature. The reason we don't get such efficiencies with our power plants is material imitations, similar limitations will limit other approaches as well. We are going to have sizable energy losses going through the membranes and be very susceptible to cracking, pitting, and holes. Note that high temperature hydrogen is a rather chemically active environment. Current thermoelectric elements are not yet efficient enough to compete with closed cycle refrigeration systems. Why should I believe that he has a system that can get ~ 50% more efficiency than we can in highly optimized power plants? Note, reasonable increases in efficiency will be very valuable and are worth funding, but the spinmeister publicity is counter productive. Incidentally, I did my Ph.D in solid state thermodynamics some 25 years ago.

Hmmm.... (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976872)

...double the rate of the next most successful solar process.

I know nothing about this area, the guy is obviously smart and sane, and it would be fantastic if it worked, but ... my BS detector started blaring when I got to those words.

Re:Hmmm.... (2, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976914)

On the other hand, there aren't many solar processes that really qualify as "efficient" so he doesn't have to work all that hard to double them.

Re:Hmmm.... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977014)

As long as you don't count plants....

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977100)

Well, as it happens I wasn't counting plants.

Re:Hmmm.... (0, Troll)

Pulse_Instance (698417) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977354)

All Americans suck because the make stupid comments like this: Instant +5 Insightful: just say "All Americans suck because {insert generalization here}"

Re:Hmmm.... (2, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977552)

Well, evidently you're not American or you'd understand where I'm coming from, and in any event you've succeeded in demonstrating the validity of my comment.

Wherever you're from, I hope it's raining.

Re:Hmmm.... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977826)

Alas being modded Troll seems to have done just the opposite and proven your comment is false.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977074)

But thousands of people have worked really hard and we have what we have today! That doesn't mean that someone thinking outside the box couldn't come along and do twice as well, but it's improbable. Still, the best of luck to him.

Re:Hmmm.... (4, Informative)

jdjbuffalo (318589) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977296)

Normally I would agree with you here and while IANAP (Physicist) I think you are not interpreting what he is saying properly.

He's not saying he found a more efficient solar cell (a doubling of that would be high on the BS scale). He is stating that he has created a new evolution of the Stirling Engine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_engine [wikipedia.org].

From what I've read he looks to be on the up and up but again IANAP. Obviously since he has yet to have a production model we need to take it with a grain of salt but it looks very promising. *Crosses fingers*

Re:Hmmm.... (3, Insightful)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977412)

well your bs detector was good to be at high alert.

Currently he has a working prototype that operates at 200 degrees centigrade. the theory implies that at 600 degrees it would achieve 60% efficiencies, existing solar (parabolic mirror based solar electric plants) operate at 800 degrees. since he has a system that works at 200 centigrade, it is not a massive power plant sized unit, that would need to be stable and still work in the 600-800 degree range. if his invention only works at 200 degrees centigrade, then it will never replace convention solar power models. but there are still many potential uses for a 200 degree centigrade model, such as using 'waste heat' from existing power plants to create 'more electricity' with less fuel.

so yeah, i wouldn't hold my breath on this 'still working' at 600 degrees when the guy who invented it hasn't gotten to those temperatures yet.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

JDevers (83155) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977928)

Don't existing plants operate at that temp just to maximize the difference between the hot and cold side of the thermal generator? That would imply that the waste heat of the solar plant wouldn't be nearly 800 deg C.

Nuclear Super Soakers.. (5, Funny)

onion2k (203094) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976896)

The man who invented the Super Soaker water gun turns out to be a nuclear engineer

Energy efficient photovoltaic cells is fun and all, but clearly he's better qualified to invent nuclear powered Super Soakers.

And I think I speak for all of the geek fraternity when I say we'd prefer them over some poxy solar panels.

Re:Nuclear Super Soakers.. (2, Funny)

game kid (805301) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977420)

... clearly he's better qualified to invent nuclear powered Super Soakers.

...and to put them in the hands of sexy women wearing only t-shirts and panties! Ah, Super Soaker, you rival x-ray vision in your powers of revealing and fun.

Second Law of Thermodynamics (1, Troll)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976900)

Huh? Recycling waste heat from a internal combustion engine? That sounds like someone is trying to violate the Kevin-Planck statement of the second law of thermodynamics!

Remember folks the majority of wasted energy in a ICE is from Valvetrain loss and from compression of air.

Re:Second Law of Thermodynamics (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977120)

The things do get hot and need to be cooled. If you put pure water in your radiator and went out driving on a hot day you could run a conventional steam turbine. Not that it's recommended with stock parts....

I didn't know that (2, Interesting)

sirwired (27582) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977148)

Most energy loss in an ICE is from Air Compression and valvetrain loss?

I would think that most of it would be because combustion is a woefully inefficient way of raising air pressure. Air compression should not be causing too much loss because that energy can be largely recovered on the power stroke. (except for ring blow-by (minimal) and compression-related-heat soaking into the cyl. wall) Valvetrain loss should only be due to cam friction (which is reduced by oil), as the energy required to compress the valve springs should be mostly returned when the valves are released.

SirWired

Re:Second Law of Thermodynamics (1)

avandesande (143899) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977344)

Remember folks the majority of wasted energy in a ICE is from Valvetrain loss and from compression of air.

Yes, generating 'waste' HEAT.

Re:Second Law of Thermodynamics (4, Informative)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977370)

Huh? Recycling waste heat from a internal combustion engine? That sounds like someone is trying to violate the Kevin-Planck statement of the second law of thermodynamics!

As I understand it, there's only a violation if that someone claims they can use ALL of the heat to do work (thermal efficiency of 1). If some heat is still being dispersed into a cooler temperature environment, it's still perfectly doable. After all, are you going to tell me you can't use waste heat from the ICE to heat up some water?

I'm not an expert in the subject (I'm an electrical engineer, so I've only gotten very basic freshman-level introductions to the laws of thermodynamics), but I think there's a well-known upper bound to how efficient recovery of heat to do work can be. Some googling led to wikipedia which tells me that upper bound is the efficiency of the Carnot Cycle [wikipedia.org]. Apparently it's not quite possible to reach it, but you're not violating thermodynamics if you're below it.

Re:Second Law of Thermodynamics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977448)

Well he's a nukee so I'm assuming he's aware of the second law of thermodynamics. Nukees have to be good since they have to compete for the five or so jobs available for them in the nuclear industry.

The same guy who invented the Super Soaker? (5, Funny)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976906)

The upside is that- like the Super Soaker- these panels will be far more efficient than their weedy predecessors.

The downside is that- like the Super Soaker- they'll only be available in eye-searingly garish combinations of purple, red and fluorescent green and yellow.

Re:The same guy who invented the Super Soaker? (5, Funny)

Jmanamj (1077749) | more than 6 years ago | (#21976976)

And, also like Super Soakers, this will spend all its time outside in the sun, and the colors will thankfully fade -but only on one side.

Human body (1)

Bob54321 (911744) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977012)

... perhaps even the human body.

Does that sound a little to like the Matrix for anyone else? I'm not going to be a coppertop.

Re:Human body (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977044)

And does it mean we can power the village with a bank of super models?

Re:Human body (1)

theheadlessrabbit (1022587) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977072)

I was thinking the same thing, but, to be honest, if my body's own waste heat could recharge my watch, my cellphone, and my laptop, I would gladly welcome our new matrix-creating robotic overlords.

Re:Human body (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977178)

Your watch probably. Cell phone maybe. Laptop, probably not. The human body puts out what, something like 100 watts worth of heat? The article says this thing loses efficiency with smaller temperature differentials so it's not going to be anything like 60% efficient. I also doubt you want walk around with your body covered in solid state thermal generators.

Anyone spot the danger? (5, Funny)

msgmonkey (599753) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977030)

This is probably going to dent my karma, but what the heck:

JTEC could potentially harvest waste heat from internal combustion engines and combustion turbines, perhaps even the human body.
With this we can find all the power we need, the plan is to harvest humans, makes the Matrix look almost almost prophetic :)

Re:Anyone spot the danger? (1)

colin_s_guthrie (929758) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977144)

Dammit. You beat me to it! I was just scanning the posts to see if someone had put up a "the matrix is real" type post as the same though crossed my paranoid mind ;)

Re:Anyone spot the danger? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977350)

Would it be feasible to use a fast growing and abundant source of food, i.e. algae, to feed some genetically engineered lifeforms, whose only purpose in life is to generate heat which gets converted into energy?

Re:Anyone spot the danger? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977436)

Why not directly grow organisms who have a highly exothermic body chemistry? Each extra step in a process means lost efficiency, since no conversion step is ever 100% efficient. Nature does some pretty damned wacky shit already (e.g. the chemistry that makes bombardier beetles so explosive).

Re:Anyone spot the danger? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977916)

but what do you need to feed your special-exothermic-bugs ? Photosynthesis is only maximum ~8% efficient itself. Why not just burn the "food" (dried algae, maybe) directly?

Re:Anyone spot the danger? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977656)

Possible? Sure. Practical? Hardly. This invention is a heat engine, so it is limited by the Carnot efficiency (1-Tc/Th) where Tc is the cold reservoir (in absolute temperature) and Th is the hot reservoir (in absolute temperature). For a 60F cold reservoir(519.7 degrees Rankine), and a 98.6F body temperature(558.3 degrees Rankine), that works out to a Carnot efficiency of (1-519.7/558.3)= 7%

You'd be much better off concentrating the sunlight (used to grow the algae), and harnassing the energy directly from that.

Re:Anyone spot the danger? (2, Informative)

Nautical Insanity (1190003) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977754)

Actually, anyone who's had a stitch of molecular biology knows that Matrix won't happen. The basal metabolism of a human being is 1600 calories per day. I'm not sure how far a cryogenic state would lower that, but for argument's sake, we'll say that the basal metabolism of a "matrix" human would be 600 calories, an absurdly low number. That means that each person on the grid would be consuming 600 kilocalories every day. (the calories you see on the nutritional information are really kilocals) That chemical energy is equivalent to the amount of energy required to heat 1 kilogram of water 600 degrees Celsius.

Food production is an energy-intensive process. Even if it is some slop that is pumped into your bloodstream, there must be potential energy in the chemical bonds within the food, which of course, requires energy. The human body also doesn't metabolize all the food it consumes as energy and the metabolic process itself requires caloric input. Even if you collected 95% of the heat produced, you'd have an inefficient system that would not be close to producing enough energy to heat 1 kilogram of water 600C within a day. It would be more efficient to burn the food and collect the energy from that. Even better, skip the entire nutrition thing and just directly use the energy that would have been wasted in the yeast vats that maintain the useless humans.

Fortunately, the Matrix is more of an allegory on the philosophy of Idealism than a forum for discussing alternative energy.

Re:Anyone spot the danger? (1)

msgmonkey (599753) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978064)

Obviously it was meant as a joke and I don't want to get more off topic than I already have. I'm just playing on the obession in geekdom with the film. Even if the energy element of the film was feasible other aspects just are n't; for example why use humans when there are less PITA forms of life?

I also read somewhere that not getting out of bed for two weeks results a 60% loss in body effiency, so Neo would probably not even be able to open is eyes when he got out, let alone move his arms to remove the tube.

Also talking about eyes, I saw this program once about blindness in this child where there was nothing physically wrong with the eye, but the passage to the brain was blocked so the signals were n't being recieved. Apparently since this was the case since birth, the brain did n't develop in that area so clearing the blockage would have no affect since the brain would not know what to do with the data. In Neo's case this would probably apply to the other senses too and probably the motor functions.

But as you said, the film is all about the philosophy oh and Carrie-Anne Moss in PVC :)

Re:Anyone spot the danger? (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978240)

Fortunately, the Matrix is more of an allegory on the philosophy of Idealism than a forum for discussing alternative energy.
The original premise of the Matrix, according Wachowski brothers, was that the humans plugged into the matrix were being used as cogs in a massively parallel neural network mainframe computing cluster which ran the Matrix simulation and other non-physical agents and programs of the machines. The power came from fusion reactors. However, it was changed to the "humans as batteries" concept because the producers (or somebody higher up at Warner...the details are sketchy) thought that the former explanation (i.e. humans as part of a massively parallel mainframe computer) would go over most people's heads whereas the later (humans as batteries) was more easily understandable, if less satisfying and realistic to the less than 5% of the audience who would actually be able to appreciate the former.

It's an interesting concept (1)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977040)

I like the idea of a sealed unit without any moving (mechanical, anyway; I'm fairly sure the hydrogen gas moves about inside) parts powered by heat, but I'll be waiting until I see a working unit before I'd consider investing or whatnot. 2nd Thermodynamics seems to be something that'd need to be carefully considered, as this almost seems like a corollary of the Steorn business from a few months back.

Wow... (1)

distantbody (852269) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977062)

A nuclear engineer, the inventor of water sports AND knows how to turn a good acronym!

Re:Wow... (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978252)

...the inventor of water sports...

I do not think that means what you think it means, though it is still in the realm of impressing a geek.

Take that news group guy! (2)

socz (1057222) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977070)

Yes, you know who you are! You who on the news groups said that "what they did in the matrix is not feasible and never will be because you could never extract enough heat from a human to power anything!"

I've been waiting for this for a long time! >

But this is pretty cool. I think if it holds true that it has micro applications, we can have an excess of power! you can easily mount these bad boys on scooters, roller blades and other forms of transportation!

Re:Take that news group guy! (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977606)

Yes, you know who you are! You who on the news groups said that "what they did in the matrix is not feasible and never will be because you could never extract enough heat from a human to power anything!"

I think it was more like "the energy you put into feeding the people is vastly greater than the amount of energy you get from them digesting that food"...

How about the waste heat from my CPU/GPU? (3, Interesting)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977102)

I want to know more about the principle on which these work, but if they work and can me made inexpensively, they will be found absolutely everywhere where there is waste heat. Couldn't the go under photovoltaic cells - since they convert heat and not light, they could just use the temperature differential between the hot black cells and the surroundings?

Re:How about the waste heat from my CPU/GPU? (2, Interesting)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977152)

First thing I thought of, what with that article about $1/watt solar cells from a week or so back. CPU/GPU wouldn't be that great a source, I shouldn't think; best you could hope for is a slight offset of the power consumed. However, if they have a decent R-value, layer 'em in the attic under the insulation, and use the house heat--that might be workable.

Re:How about the waste heat from my CPU/GPU? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977216)

If they had a decent R-value you wouldn't get much power out of them.

Re:How about the waste heat from my CPU/GPU? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977980)

What about in a beowolf cluster?

Re:How about the waste heat from my CPU/GPU? (2, Interesting)

Anarchitect_in_oz (771448) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978132)

R-value is a measure of the speed of heat flow right?
Insulation works by slowing the heat down enough that at some point the temperture reverses and so does the heat flow.

So if they turn heat into Elec, that then gets used in the house, and generating waste heat, then they have a really poor R-value. Your still knocking the overall heat load down, but thats to world view for R to handle.
If you use the elec. for outdoor applications then well your talking more reflective or thermal cavity type barrier.

Re:How about the waste heat from my CPU/GPU? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977240)

Actually I was thinking that it could make geothermal a lot more practical. Most geothermal steam is pretty low in temperature so this could really help with geothermal power systems.

Re:How about the waste heat from my CPU/GPU? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977246)

The article says the efficiency improves as the temperature increases. Besides, even if it didn't, the light to heat conversion that's a prereq is pretty much 100% efficient. There's no point in the photovoltaics.

Ohh yeah, he's qualified... (-1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977110)

Ohh yeah, a guy that can hook up an air pump to a water reservoir, he's WELL QUALIFIED to beat the laws of thermodynamics.

His web site looks like your prototypical scam job. Very little text, no science, and a confusing and contradictory animated GIF.

Re:Ohh yeah, he's qualified... (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977306)

Nothing claims to beat the laws of thermodynamics. 60% efficiency doesn't even approach the best law-abiding case.

Re:Ohh yeah, he's qualified... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977390)

Would he be more qualified if he hadn't invented super soakers? I didn't know that people were only capable of having one skill. I'm asking for a refund on my liberal arts-style education now.

Re:Ohh yeah, he's qualified... (2, Informative)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977398)

From TFA (the popSci URL that does explain it):

Here's how it works: One MEA stack is coupled to a high- temperature heat source (such as solar heat concentrated by mirrors), and the other to a low-temperature heat sink (ambient air). The low-temperature stack acts as the compressor stage while the high-temperature stack functions as the power stage. Once the cycle is started by the electrical jolt, the resulting pressure differential produces voltage across each of the MEA stacks. The higher voltage at the high-temperature stack forces the low-temperature stack to pump hydrogen from low pressure to high pressure, maintaining the pressure differential. Meanwhile hydrogen passing through the high-temperature stack generates power.

IOW, you still need a constant heat source. TFA mentions that they're working on a 200 degree C version, and managed to get their prototype going w/ 60% efficiency if the temp is at 600 degrees C... TFA also mentions that current solar furnaces can jack out around 800 degree C heat when you have a shitload of parabolic mirrors pointing at your boiler.

Overall, you're still taking in heat (read: energy) from an external source, so there's (from the looks of it) no cheating going on here.

/P

Re:Ohh yeah, he's qualified... (2, Informative)

Copid (137416) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977736)

Ohh yeah, a guy that can hook up an air pump to a water reservoir, he's WELL QUALIFIED to beat the laws of thermodynamics.
Errr... the guy has degrees in mechanical and nuclear engineering and has worked for ORNL and JPL. In fact, some of his work has been in cooling systems. My guess is that he has a better handle on the laws of thermodynamics than most people.

Too good to be true ? (1)

Khalid (31037) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977128)

Well, something I have learned through the years, If something is too good to be true, then it's really too good to be true ! It's exactly like 419 Fraud, too good to be true :).

Now I am going to really read the article !

Body heat eh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977230)

Well, the human body DOES generate over 25,000 BTUs of body heat. Wait...why does that sound dubiously familiar?

Another misleading summary (4, Informative)

MonorailCat (1104823) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977266)

The article doesn't say the device is good for 60%, it states IF they are able to design it to work with with high-temperature ceramics, and IF it is able to reach 600C, then CARNOT efficiency is 60%, of which this device will obtain some fraction.

I didn't see any details on how this is any better than century-old heat engine ideas, unless the solid state design allows dirt cheap mass production, in which case he might be onto something...

What about Carnot Efficiency? (2, Interesting)

sirwired (27582) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977286)

I hope that it was an under-educated writer talking about harvesting waste human-body heat, and not the NSF or the inventor.

Harvesting waste heat from a 98-degree human operating in even a 30 degree environment is only 13% efficient, at maximum. I just don't see it being real useful to try and harvest waste heat from an ICE or turbine. If a power-plant turbine had useful exhaust steam, they would already be using it to turn another turbine I expect.

The fact it has no moving parts is nice, but how high could the efficiency possibly go?

SirWired

Re:What about Carnot Efficiency? (1)

tsotha (720379) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977544)

Yeah, but for this kind of thing efficiency doesn't matter, at least not by itself. What matters is cost. If I can make something to generate electicity from heat for only a few bucks, then it might make sense to wrap one around my muffler even if it's only 1% efficient.

sterling engine? (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977358)

I seem to recall that a sterling engine was one of the most efficient ways to convert solar energy to do work. How does this compare with a sterling engine?

Re:sterling engine? (1)

fritsd (924429) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977516)

I take it you mean Stirling engine [wikipedia.org]. I don't really know; it's been decades since I learnt thermodynamics and I've forgotten most of it... The diagram on the web page does look like a Super Soaker to me, though.

Maybe someone from Philips can comment?

Stirling cycle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977366)

Aside from all the overdone crap about super soakers, this seems to me to be a kind of Stirling Cycle: it has high and low temp reservoirs, the high temp one for expansion, the low temp one for compression. Hydrogen (the working gas) is passed through the membranes, generating electricity. Therefore the max thermodynamic efficiency is determined by the Carnot equation, so the higher the temp of the hot reservoir, the better the efficiency. No pistons and whatnot required, so efficiency is maximized..

Energy consumption is social justice (3, Interesting)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977478)

Because I am a liberal who is concerned about social justice, I get excited by technologies that could be used to increase energy consumption by folks who are lower on the socio-economic ladder. Increased use of energy consumption for things like refrigeration, home heating, and personal car transportation is something I don't think should be reserved for the upper classes. Inventions that lower the cost of personal energy consumption are worthy of attention and disproportionate investment from fair minded progressives.

First? (2, Informative)

evilviper (135110) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977534)

the first U.S. thermal power plant just getting into production

Way to mis-quote. According to TFA, that's the first solar thermal MANUFACTURING plant... As in, they make the equipment. There are several U.S. solar thermal power plants, dating back to the 70s.

Carnot Efficiency is for Carnot Engine! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977546)

Carnot Efficiency is only a limit on a Carnot Cycle Engine!

This will be of bigger uses elsewhere (3, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977630)

In particular, with nuclear power plants AND geo-thermal. Our power plants dump loads of energy to the environment. This may possibly help with using more of that energy.

Perhaps more important would be geo-thermal. It does not say what the temp differences need to be, but if it can work on ~ 100 degree difference, then this is the answer for the large number of dried up oil wells that have loads of heat down there. The big problem for USA is that we have a large number of wells where the max temp is ~170F. We could hook up a solar heater to carry it up in temp, but if this works, then it will enable these old wells to be re-used and new ones to be drilled.

Re:This will be of bigger uses elsewhere (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977710)

If this works as advertised, It would be a *perfect replacement for turbines in power plants.

*as long as you want DC power

Now that you mention it, a certain new class of nuclear submarine was designed with an entirely DC electrical distribution system...

what, no mention of (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21977712)

solar-soak dat ho?

Now RTFA. (1)

eXFeLoN (954179) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977816)

Until now, thermodynamic engines that use compressible working fluids have generally been mechanical devices. These devices have inherent difficulties in achieving high compression ratios and in achieving the near constant temperature compression and expansion processes needed to approximate Carnot equivalent cycles. Solid-state thermoelectric converters that utilize semiconductor materials have only been able to achieve single digit conversion efficiency. Extensive resources have been applied toward Alkali Metal Thermoelectric Converters (AMTEC), which operate on a modified Rankine cycle and on the Stirling engine. However, because of inherent limitations, these systems have not achieved envisioned performance levels. The JTEC is an all solid-state engine that operates on the Ericsson cycle. Equivalent to Carnot, the Ericsson cycle offers the maximum theoretical efficiency available from an engine operating between two temperatures. The JTEC system utilizes the electro-chemical potential of hydrogen pressure applied across a proton conductive membrane (PCM). The membrane and a pair of electrodes form a Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA) similar to those used in fuel cells. On the high-pressure side of the MEA, hydrogen gas is oxidized resulting in the creation of protons and electrons. The pressure differential forces protons through the membrane causing the electrodes to conduct electrons through an external load. On the low-pressure side, the protons are reduced with the electrons to reform hydrogen gas. This process can also operate in reverse. If current is passed through the MEA a low-pressure gas can be "pumped" to a higher pressure. The JTEC uses two membrane electrode assembly (MEA) stacks. One stack is coupled to a high temperature heat source and the other to a low temperature heat sink. Hydrogen circulates within the engine between the two MEA stacks via a counter flow regenerative heat exchanger. The engine does not require oxygen or a continuous fuel supply, only heat. Like a gas turbine engine, the low temperature MEA stack is the compressor stage and the high temperature MEA is the power stage. The MEA stacks will be designed for sufficient heat transfer with the heat source and sink to allow near constant temperature expansion and compression processes. This feature coupled with the use of a regenerative counter flow heat exchanger will allow the engine to approximate the Ericsson cycle. The engine is scaleable and has applications ranging from supplying power for Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) to power for large-scale applications such as fixed power plants. The technology is applicable to skid mounted, field generators, land vehicles, air vehicles and spacecraft. The JTEC could utilize heat from fuel combustion, solar, low grade industrial waste heat or waste heat from other power generation systems including fuel cells, internal combustion engines and combustion turbines. As a heat pump, the JTEC system could be used as a drop in replacement for existing HVAC equipment in residential, commercial, or industrial settings.

It's like geothermal... but different... (2, Interesting)

divisionbyzero (300681) | more than 6 years ago | (#21977968)

It uses a temperature differential to produce energy but in this case the differential is created by solar energy heating one end rather than burying one end in the earth and the energy seems to be converted directly into electricity rather than steam to turn a turbine to create electricity. Clever, if it works.

Where is the Hydrogen Coming From? (2, Interesting)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978084)

TFA Talks about pressurized hydrogen gas being diffused across a membrane(s) but it does not mention where the hydrogen gas is coming from. Now, I am NOT a physicist, but unless he has found a new and low cost way to obtain free hydrogen H2 gas then I doubt that his engine will be a substantial improvement over existing technologies since hydrogen gas is generally very energy intensive to separate from water or other reactions. Another problem is that hydrogen gas, particularly hydrogen gas under pressure, is extremely corrosive. It tends to want to diffuse through or undermine the integrity of any material that you attempt to contain it with. This is the reason why hydrogen gas, even though it is the most efficient known working fluid for Stirling Engines [wikipedia.org] is typically not used (Helium or Nitrogen is generally used instead or even just plain air). The difficulty and expense of separating and then containing the hydrogen gas within the engine is just not worth the trouble for the modest gain in efficiency over alternative working gases in Stirling engines. Perhaps someone with more background in physics can explain how the engine in TFA is different and solves these problems?

You cycle it (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21978300)

As I read it, the hydrogen is cycled between the hot and cold sides of the cell. You don't need any more than the initial charge, just like the refrigerant in an air conditioner.

What actually happens is the hydrogen is ionized, meaning the protons which make up the nucleus of hydrogen are separated from the electrons. The protons pass through a proton-permeable membrane and flow to the cold side through a tube. The electrons are collected by anodes and forced to travel through an electrical load to the other side in order to recombine with the protons.

I'm honestly not sure of the specific details beyond that. I suspect hydrogen is used because it consists of only a proton and an electron. No pesky neutrons getting in the way and sapping energy with their mass without contributing a charge. I have no idea how they deal with hydrogen embrittlement or anything like that, because I suspect it would be a worse problem dealing with ionized hydrogen, but it may be a surmountable one.

Based on how little information there is on the webpage, I'm guessing this project isn't very far along. At face value it sounds technically feasible, but I'll wait until they start reporting actual performance data to get excited about it.

Nanotech Version (1, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978092)

I'm really waiting for the nanotech implementation of these heat engines. The nanoscale mechanics will be higher efficiency, and embedded as materials into PV materials, will seem to be simply high-efficiency solar panels, not complex machines. Maybe more than 70% efficient. And I expect they'll be lower-energy to manufacture with chemical processes, rather than mechanical assembly, and last longer, so their overall lifetime efficiency will be several times greater than today's.

Super effective solar heat engine (0)

AeiwiMaster (20560) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978158)

A super effective solar heat engine have
already been invented it is called a repulsin.
Try google it.

More power at point of delivery (0)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978188)

Geez, 200c is low temp? Couple this with high temperature semiconductors running well below freezing, you could stick a thermocouple between the generator and the delivery system and generate more juice.

can someone explain this advance? (1)

BigDukeSix (832501) | more than 6 years ago | (#21978268)

This is a heat engine with gaseous hydrogen as the working fluid? What part of the "membrane-electrode assemblies" is different from this? [wikipedia.org]
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