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The Problem

Over 50 quadrillion BTUs were dumped into the environment in the form of waste heat in 2007.

According to the Energy Information Administration the United States consumed 102 quadrillion BTUs of energy in 2007, approximately 50% of which was dumped into the environment in the form of waste heat.  This total annual amount of lost energy is equivalent to the net amount of energy New York State’s industrial and commercial sectors consume over a 100 year period.  Fuel powered vehicles alone in New York where less than 25% of the available energy of the consumed fuel is converted to propulsion; dump an equivalent of 12 million gallons of gas each day into the environment in the form of waste heat.  There are similar statistics for the power generation and industrial sectors.  Unfortunately much of this waste heat is moderate to low grade heat and in many cases dispersed, making recovery challenging.  Currently, there are not many technically and economically viable options for tapping this tremendous energy resource, but there are emerging options on the horizon.

The Opportunity

Recovering 1% of the U.S. waste heat as electricity would power all of New York State indefinitely. 

There have been exciting advancements in thermoelectric materials in the past several years that potentially open the door to one viable option.  Thermoelectrics are solid-state devices that convert thermal energy directly into electrical energy.  They are modular, robust, and can operate over a large range of operating temperatures making them ideal candidates for tapping our “waste” heat resources.  Although the tremendous recent advancements in thermoelectric materials show potential improvements in generating power by factors of two or more, there has been little attention on the best ways to integrate these new materials into technically and economically sound systems. 

The Solution

TEPSS should lead to creative waste heat to electricity design options.

We will develop a software screening and design tool, TEPSS, to assess when and where thermoelectric power generation is a viable option.  TEPSS will allow engineers to examine the feasibility of using thermoelectrics on the heat resources and then optimize the design for specific uses based on both technical and economic models.  Currently such an assessment tool does not exist.  Most modeling and development on the application of thermoelectrics to date has treated the development of thermoelectric modules and system application separately or loosely coupled.  TEPSS will strongly couple the module and system design as well as incorporate both engineering and economic models.  This innovative approach will allow the exploration of the interplay between thermoelectric module efficiency and heat recovery, which is critical where co-generation or recuperators are being considered.