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Left to Right: Richard James, Yintao Song, Kanwal Bhatti and Vijay Srivastava  (Source: University of Minnesota)
The new multiferroic alloy is called Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10

A new step toward environmentally friendly electricity has been made through the discovery of a new alloy material that converts heat into electricity directly. 

Richard James, study leader and University of Minnesota aerospace engineering and mechanics professor, along with University of Minnesota aerospace engineering and mechanics post-doctoral researchers Vijay Srivastava, Kanwal Bhatti and Ph.D. student Yintao Song, have used a new alloy to create electricity from heat. This could eventually lead to capturing waste heat from car exhaust and using it to create electricity for a hybrid car battery, thus recycling energy.

The material was created through the combination of elements at the atomic level. This led to the development of a new multiferroic alloy called Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10. This alloy underwent a "highly reversible" phase transformation where a solid turns into another solid, and during this transformation, its magnetic properties changed. These changes show in the energy conversion instrument. The material starts out as non-magnetic, and then becomes increasingly magnetic as the temperature increases. The material absorbs the heat and produces electricity in a coil.

Some of the recovered heat is lost through the process hysteresis, but the University of Minnesota team found a way to reduce this process and absorb more heat. 

"This research is very promising because it presents an entirely new method for energy conversion that's never been done before," said James. "It's also the ultimate 'green' way to create electricity because it uses waste heat to create electricity with no carbon dioxide." 

The team is also working on making a thin film of the material to convert heat from computers into electricity. 

"This research crosses all boundaries of science and engineering," said James. "It includes engineering, physics, materials, chemistry, mathematics and more. It has required all of us within the university's College of Science and Engineering to work together to think in new ways."

This study was published in Advanced Energy Materials.

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the greater implication
By Chernobyl68 on 6/27/2011 2:14:35 PM , Rating: 2
is at power much of the fuel consumed for electricity production is lost to the atmoshpere as waste heat. Coal, gas turbine, etc...could all use this technology to recover energy.

RE: the greater implication
By kattanna on 6/27/2011 3:10:10 PM , Rating: 5
This gives a rather low efficiency of 0.004% . In our present designs a lot of the latent heat is not being used to make electricity.

from the actual research paper

not exactly stellar performance there. seems the "big deal" about this material is it can generate power from a smaller temperature difference then most materials, but is still very poor at the conversion itself.

RE: the greater implication
By icanhascpu on 6/27/11, Rating: -1
RE: the greater implication
By Bad-Karma on 6/27/2011 4:34:35 PM , Rating: 5
Whatever floats your boat. But it will probably give you some kind of a rash.

RE: the greater implication
By snakeInTheGrass on 6/27/2011 4:49:16 PM , Rating: 3
Pound sand?

RE: the greater implication
By FITCamaro on 6/27/11, Rating: 0
RE: the greater implication
By SPOOFE on 6/27/2011 7:06:42 PM , Rating: 2
G'huh? What's so awful about recognizing that one can get a desirable thing from a better source than what's currently used?

RE: the greater implication
By delphinus100 on 6/27/2011 7:21:55 PM , Rating: 5
Agreed. It's all that.

Now, does the expression 'Faustian Bargain' mean anything to you...?

RE: the greater implication
By RedemptionAD on 6/28/2011 7:11:03 AM , Rating: 3
Are you implying that FIT made a deal with the devil in exchange for an 100 extra HP in his GTO?

RE: the greater implication
By Manch on 6/28/2011 8:56:51 AM , Rating: 2
Well it is a GTO. He has options other than giving up his soul to get a faster car. He could just trade it in for a Mustang GT!

RE: the greater implication
By Bad-Karma on 6/28/2011 11:13:24 PM , Rating: 2
GTO vs. Mustang GT....Sorry, but the cool points to the guy with the GTO.

RE: the greater implication
By Manch on 6/29/2011 9:09:26 AM , Rating: 2
He can keep the cool points. I'll take the faster ET!

Less talk more make
By BugblatterIII on 6/27/2011 3:16:24 PM , Rating: 3
Turning heat into electricity seems to be the new fad on here; we seem to get one a week.

I didn't read the links so correct me if I've missed something, but to generate electricity requires a changing magnetic field. Something going from non-magnetic to magnetic once will produce almost nothing.

RE: Less talk more make
By Solandri on 6/27/2011 4:15:07 PM , Rating: 3
You don't have to go straight from magnetism to electricity. As a simple thought experiment, imagine this material mounted on a wheel, sitting above a steel base. As it heats up and becomes magnetic, it is attracted to the base and spins the wheel towards it. The moves it further from the heat source, allowing it to cool, causing it to become non-magnetic and allowing the wheel to spin further. Repeat. You can then hook up the wheel to a electric generator.

But as someone pointed out above, at its current level of efficiency, it'd be like putting dixie cups on a ferris wheel and expecting rain falling in the cups to spin the ferris wheel. If they can raise its efficiency substantially, it might go somewhere. Otherwise it'll just remain a curiosity of physics.

RE: Less talk more make
By SPOOFE on 6/27/2011 7:09:37 PM , Rating: 2
If they can raise its efficiency substantially, it might go somewhere.

Or make it super, super cheap, which I doubt. If it were no more expensive than conventional materials or construction methods, then even a tiny tiny increase would be worth it. But again, I doubt it'll happen.

RE: Less talk more make
By FaaR on 6/29/2011 11:19:03 AM , Rating: 3
Nice thought experiment, but even discounting the weak magnetism it would produce and thus the tiny torque it would generate (perhaps less than resistance from bearings and generator) it would probably need to spin for thousands of years just to recoup the energy spent on its construction, much less give a net surplus...

These sort of ideas are always hare-brained right from the outset. There's hardly any energy to be gained, and the resources spent into R&D could have been better spent elsewhere. Unavoidably these schemes tend to smell like a fishing expidition for venture capital from science-ignorant investors who don't realize that they'll never see a return on their money, making the whole thing little more than a scam.

RE: Less talk more make
By JediJeb on 6/27/2011 5:10:46 PM , Rating: 2
Seems like you would need the heat pulsed to keep the magnetic field fluctuating to generate electricity by the way the article says it.

Efficiency seem lower than that of a thermocouple. Correct me if I am wrong but weren't Voyager and Pioneer powered by Thermopiles which are nothing but arrays of thermocouples powered by the heat of a radioactive isotope? Why can't we wrap car exhaust systems in a bunch of thermocouples to make electricity from the waste heat?

RE: Less talk more make
By Fritzr on 6/27/2011 9:38:45 PM , Rating: 3
Why can't we wrap car exhaust systems in a bunch of thermocouples to make electricity from the waste heat?

In production. Low efficiency compared to mainstream power production, but there are applications such as the exhaust system of a truck tractor. Google "Peltier" which is the most common form of this device. Some of these are used as actively powered coolers, others generate power while drawing heat from a substrate.

Old news so they won't make the headlines again until there is an unusual application or a substantial increase in efficiency.

Another heat driven power generator is a Stirling Cycle engine driven generator, which can be powered by exhaust heat with the cold side behind a wall that screens it from the waste heat source.

A couple of existing production solar heated Stirling Cycle generators are a device that powers a satellite, and a ground version that uses what looks like a satellite dish to focus sunlight on the hot side of the engine.

Another one is available that drives a small fan and is powered by a cup of hot coffee. There is no reason these cannot be harnessed to draw power from waste steam in a conventional power plant, or the exhaust heat from a combustion engine or firebox.

RE: Less talk more make
By mindless1 on 6/28/2011 6:56:45 PM , Rating: 2
Why can't we wrap car exhaust systems in a bunch of thermocouples to make electricity from the waste heat?

1) It would create a trivial amount of electricity.

2) The higher exhaust backpressure from (further) cooling the exhaust would "probably" put enough additional drag on the engine to exceed the amount of drag by just producing more electricity through the alternator.

3) It would add significant cost, and reduce lifespan, and increase repair costs to add to what is now a pretty simple car subsystem (beyond the application of the precious metals in the catalytic convertor(s)).

4) Adds weight, not just the energy production portion but wiring, shielding, more robust hanger/bracket system.

Thermoelectric isn't new at all
By Hlafordlaes on 6/27/2011 5:05:48 PM , Rating: 3

Efficiencies cited in the wiki article are also much higher than in this case.

RE: Thermoelectric isn't new at all
By MrTeal on 6/27/2011 6:15:44 PM , Rating: 2
I agree, the efficiencies are pretty bad. Unlike a TEG though, this seems to just be a single alloy, made from pretty common metals. I would expect it would be significantly cheaper than the semiconductor based ones.

Now if they can just raise the efficiency 100,000% it would be really competitive. :P

RE: Thermoelectric isn't new at all
By Fritzr on 6/28/2011 2:35:44 AM , Rating: 2
The newsworthy feature was that this is a new TEG. TEGs in general are well known. The researchers have identified a TEG that was previously unknown. The next step in the research will be to see if efficiency can be improved.

RE: Thermoelectric isn't new at all
By dotpoz on 6/28/2011 4:51:25 AM , Rating: 2
Seebeck effect uses temperature differences, this thing seems different

It has begun
By muIIet on 6/27/2011 2:47:26 PM , Rating: 1
The day of the Matrix is upon us. Hurry choose your hacker nicknames before they are all used up.

RE: It has begun
By kleinma on 6/27/2011 3:07:24 PM , Rating: 2
Can I use Neo? I want to make sure I survive the robopocolypse

RE: It has begun
By Akrovah on 6/27/2011 7:20:32 PM , Rating: 2
Umm.....didn't know...DIE at the end of those movies?

RE: It has begun
By muIIet on 6/27/2011 11:24:12 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah cool, I got Mr. pickle reserved.

By RedemptionAD on 6/28/11, Rating: 0
RE: BAH!!!
By RedemptionAD on 6/28/2011 7:19:27 AM , Rating: 1
Not enough coffee leads to spelling errors. And yes the device is real.

RE: BAH!!!
By Manch on 6/28/2011 1:23:44 PM , Rating: 2
Well, in your case not enough coffee also leads to delusions.

RE: BAH!!!
By RedemptionAD on 7/5/2011 3:01:08 PM , Rating: 2
Ever been asked a question half asleep? Or answered questions while alseep?

RE: BAH!!!
By axeman1957 on 6/28/2011 12:38:46 PM , Rating: 2
I immediately doubt your claim because 10Kwh is not an energy output, but rather a finite amount of energy. A "a perpetual motion device that actual works and can generate electricity" would have some sort of constant energy output, and if you managed to make one, I would think you would know the difference between kW and kWh (or Kwh for that matter, yes boys and girls, capitalization matters in units)

/End EE rant.

By semo on 6/27/2011 2:29:52 PM , Rating: 1
Here comes the obligatory criticism
No timescale = Will never be commercialized
No costs mentioned = Probably more expensive than unobtanium

Even if this thing moves beyond the lab, it will have way too many patents to turn into a product you can sell on shelves.

RE: vaporware
By RamarC on 6/27/2011 2:45:53 PM , Rating: 2
most universities liberally license their research derived patents -- they want the license money! the only time university patterns get cornered is when the research is done under a big gift/grant from a sponsor corporation, in which case the patent typically becomes the sponsor's IP.

RE: vaporware
By Etsp on 6/27/2011 2:52:21 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps the means of making it are expensive, but that can always be improved. Of the components in the name, I don't see anything that is particularly rare. This should drive costs down quite a bit once they come up with a way to cheaply manufacture it.

What about clothes dryers?
By ShaolinSoccer on 6/27/2011 4:11:06 PM , Rating: 2
Can't believe noone has even mentioned about that. Not only could they use this alloy, you could have fans spinning from the air pushing and create even more recycled electricity?

RE: What about clothes dryers?
By Solandri on 6/27/2011 4:21:06 PM , Rating: 3
Engines which operate entirely on heat are nothing new.

The problem has always been that for most heat sources, the amount of heat energy you can convert back into mechanical or electrical energy is too small for it to be cost-effective. In transportation for instance, the energy consumed by having to carry around the weight of the heat recapture device usually exceeds the amount of energy the device can recapture. They generally only make sense in large, stationary applications like co-generators at power plants.

Like solar (and to a lesser extent, wind), the energy is free. But it is so disperse that there's an enormous cost associated with capturing it, usually exceeding the cost of simply generating new energy from fuel.

Wake up, Coppertop
By ppardee on 6/27/2011 1:52:43 PM , Rating: 3
So theoretically, you could use this to generate electricity from body heat...

can you say trillionare
By MrBungle123 on 6/27/2011 2:54:19 PM , Rating: 2
Whoever perfects this technology is going to make a fortune.

Good luck with that.
By KaptinB on 6/27/2011 5:01:48 PM , Rating: 2
So, it sounds like they created a process to generate electricity from heat that will be incredibly expensive and still manage to be orders of magnitude less efficient than a standard, everyday off the shelf thermocouple. ( Congratulations.

And if that's not enough electricity for ya, string together a bunch of thermocouples and make yourself a thermopile (

By Joz on 6/27/2011 7:51:09 PM , Rating: 2
University of Minnesota representn'!

By jatkinsaut on 6/27/2011 9:44:29 PM , Rating: 2
Thermocouples generate electricity from heat. Does this new material rise faster than 80 microvolts per degrees C? If so, it could be a new thermocouple type (Type M for Minnesota?) Of course, a load to take energy away from the juction will reduce the voltage output somewhat.

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