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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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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.

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