How To Harness Heat To Power Computers

One of the biggest problems with computers, dating to the invention of the first one, has been finding ways to keep them cool so that they don’t overheat or shut down. Instead of combating the heat, two University of Nebraska–Lincoln engineers have embraced it as an alternative energy source that would allow computing at ultra-high temperatures. Sidy Ndao, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said his research group’s development of a nano-thermal-mechanical device, or thermal diode, came after flipping around the question of how to better cool computers.

thermal diode

If you think about it, whatever you do with electricity you should (also) be able to do with heat, because they are similar in many ways,” Ndao said. “In principle, they are both energy carriers. If you could control heat, you could use it to do computing and avoid the problem of overheating.”

A paper Ndao co-authored with Mahmoud Elzouka, a graduate student in mechanical and materials engineering, was published in the March edition of Scientific Reports. In it, they documented their device working in temperatures that approached 630 degrees Fahrenheit (332 degrees Celsius).


Nano-Implant Could Restore Sight

A team of engineers at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego)  and La Jolla-based startup Nanovision Biosciences Inc. have developed the nanotechnology and wireless electronics for a new type of retinal prosthesis that brings research a step closer to restoring the ability of neurons in the retina to respond to light. The researchers demonstrated this response to light in a rat retina interfacing with a prototype of the device in vitro. The technology could help tens of millions of people worldwide suffering from neurodegenerative diseases that affect eyesight, including macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and loss of vision due to diabetes.

Despite tremendous advances in the development of retinal prostheses over the past two decades, the performance of devices currently on the market to help the blind regain functional vision is still severely limited—well under the acuity threshold of 20/200 that defines legal blindness.

cortical neuronsPrimary cortical neurons cultured on the surface of an array of optoelectronic nanowires. Note the extensive neurite outgrowth and network formation

We want to create a new class of devices with drastically improved capabilities to help people with impaired vision,” said Gabriel A. Silva, one of the senior authors of the work and professor in bioengineering and ophthalmology at UC San Diego. Silva also is one of the original founders of Nanovision.

Power is delivered wirelessly, from outside the body to the implant, through an inductive powering telemetry system developed by a team led by Cauwenberghs.

The device is highly energy efficient because it minimizes energy losses in wireless power and data transmission and in the stimulation process, recycling electrostatic energy circulating within the inductive resonant tank, and between capacitance on the electrodes and the resonant tank. Up to 90 percent of the energy transmitted is actually delivered and used for stimulation, which means less RF wireless power emitting radiation in the transmission, and less heating of the surrounding tissue from dissipated power. For proof-of-concept, the researchers inserted the wirelessly powered nanowire array beneath a transgenic rat retina with rhodopsin P23H knock-in retinal degeneration.

The findings are published in a recent issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering.



Drones Re-Charging Wireless While Airborne

Scientists have demonstrated a highly efficient method for wirelessly transferring power to a drone while it is flying. The breakthrough could in theory allow flying drones to stay airborne indefinitely by simply hovering over a ground support vehicle to recharge opening up new potential industrial applications.

The technology uses inductive coupling, a concept initially demonstrated by inventor Nikola Tesla over 100 years ago. Two copper coils are tuned into one another, using electronics, which enables the wireless exchange of power at a certain frequency. Scientists have been experimenting with this technology for decades, but have not been able to wirelessly power flying technology.


Now, scientists from Imperial College London (ICL) have removed the battery from an off-the-shelf mini-drone and demonstrated that they can wirelessly transfer power to it via inductive coupling. They believe their demonstration is the first to show how this wireless charging method can be efficiently done with a flying object like a drone, potentially paving the way for wider use of the technology.

To demonstrate their approach the researchers bought an off-the-shelf quadcopter drone, around 12 centimetres in diameter, and altered its electronics and removed its battery. They made a copper foil ring, which is a receiving antennae that encircles the drone’s casing. On the ground, a transmitter device made out of a circuit board is connected to electronics and a power source, creating a magnetic field.

The drone’s electronics are tuned or calibrated at the frequency of the magnetic field. When it flies into the magnetic field an alternating current (AC) voltage is induced in the receiving antenna and the drone’s electronics convert it efficiently into a direct current (DC) voltage to power it.


Device Doubles The Energy Conversion Of Solar Cells

Scientists from Japan are utilizing nanotechnology advancements to strengthen solar cellsSolar cells convert light into electricity using a bevy of sources, including light from the sun and the burning of natural resources such as oil and natural gas. However, the cells do not convert all light to power equally, which led to scientists attempting to find ways to produce more power. The flame of a gas burner will shift from red to blue as the heat increases because higher temperatures emit light at shorter wavelengths. Higher heat offers more energy, making short wavelengths an important target in the design of solar cells. Kyoto University‘s Takashi Asano, began using optical technologies to improve energy production.

device to double the power of solar cells

Current solar cells are not good at converting visible light to electrical power. The best efficiency is only around 20 percent,” Asano said in a statement. “The problem is that heat dissipates light of all wavelengths, but a solar cell will only work in a narrow range. To solve this, we built a new nano-sized semiconductor that narrows the wavelength bandwidth to concentrate the energy.

The researchers were able to use their nanoscale semiconductor to raise the energy conversion rate to at least 40 percent. Asano and researchers at the Susumu Noda lab had previously attempted to work with higher wavelengths. “Our first device worked at high wavelengths but to narrow output for visible light required a new strategy, which is why we shifted to intrinsic silicon in this current collaboration with Osaka Gas,” Asano said. Visible wavelengths are emitted at 1000 degrees Celsius but conveniently silicon has a melting temperature of over 1,400 degrees Celsius.

This concept was utilized by the scientists, who etched silicon plates to have a large number of identical and equidistantly-spaced rods, the height, radii and spacing of which was optimized for the target bandwidth. Susumu Noda, a professor at Kyoto University, explained the benefits of the advancement: “Our technology has two important benefits. First is energy efficiency: we can convert heat into electricity much more efficiently than before. Secondly is design:  we can now create much smaller and more robust transducers, which will be beneficial in a wide range of applications.”

The study was published in Science Advances.


How To Convert Heat Into Electricity

The same researchers who pioneered the use of a quantum mechanical effect to convert heat into electricity have figured out how to make their technique work in a form more suitable to industry. In Nature Communications, engineers from The Ohio State University (OSU) describe how they used magnetism on a composite of nickel and platinum to amplify the voltage output 10 times or more—not in a thin film, as they had done previously, but in a thicker piece of material that more closely resembles components for future electronic devices.

Many electrical and mechanical devices, such as car engines, produce heat as a byproduct of their normal operation. It’s called “waste heat,” and its existence is required by the fundamental laws of thermodynamics, explained study co-author Stephen Boona.

devices-that-convert-heat-into-electricityOver half of the energy we use is wasted and enters the atmosphere as heat,” said Boona, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State. “Solid-state thermoelectrics can help us recover some of that energy. These devices have no moving parts, don’t wear out, are robust and require no maintenance. Unfortunately, to date, they are also too expensive and not quite efficient enough to warrant widespread use. We’re working to change that.”But a growing area of research called solid-state thermoelectrics aims to capture that waste heat inside specially designed materials to generate power and increase overall energy efficiency.


Efficient Triboelectric Generator Embedded In A Shoe

A two-stage power management and storage system could dramatically improve the efficiency of triboelectric generators that harvest energy from irregular human motion such as walking, running or finger tapping. The system uses a small capacitor to capture alternating current generated by the biomechanical activity. When the first capacitor fills, a power management circuit then feeds the electricity into a battery or larger capacitor. This second storage device supplies DC current at voltages appropriate for powering wearable and mobile devices such as watches, heart monitors, calculators, thermometers – and even wireless remote entry devices for vehicles. By matching the impedance of the storage device to that of the triboelectric generators, the new system can boost energy efficiency from just one percent to as much as 60 percent.

Triboelectric shoes

llustration shows how a triboelectric generator embedded in a shoe would produce electricity as a person walked

With a high-output triboelectric generator and this power management circuit, we can power a range of applications from human motion,” said Simiao Niu, a graduate research assistant in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “The first stage of our system is matched to the triboelectric nanogenerator, and the second stage is matched to the application that it will be powering.

The research has been reported in the journal Nature Communications.


A Billion Holes Make a Postage Stamp Battery

Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have invented a single tiny structure that includes all the components of a battery that they say could bring about the ultimate miniaturization of energy storage components.
A billion nanopores could fit on a postage stamp
The structure is called a nanopore: a tiny hole in a ceramic sheet that holds electrolyte to carry the electrical charge between nanotube electrodes at either end. The existing device is a test, but the bitsy battery performs well. First author Chanyuan Liu, a Ph.D. student in materials science, says that it can be fully charged in 12 minutes, and it can be recharged thousands of time.

Many millions of these nanopores can be crammed into one larger battery the size of a postage stamp. One of the reasons the researchers think this unit is so successful is because each nanopore is shaped just like the others, which allows them to pack the tiny thin batteries together efficiently.The space inside the holes is so small that the space they take up, all added together, would be no more than a grain of sand.
Now that the scientists have the battery working and have demonstrated the concept, they have also identified improvements that could make the next version 10 times more powerful. The next step to commercialization: the inventors have conceived strategies for manufacturing the battery in large batches.

A team of UMD chemists and materials scientists collaborated on the project: Gary Rubloff, director of the Maryland NanoCenter, Sang Bok Lee, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and seven of their Ph.D. students.

2016: The End Of Cables, A Completely Wireless PC

Intel‘s Skylake, which is the company’s post-Broadwell next-generation platform, will allow the PC maker to eliminate the need for any cables by 2016. Kirk Skaugen, Intel senior Vice-President , has demonstrated at Taipei’s Computex show wireless capabilities for docking, charging and display, which are the last functions for the PC that still require cables. A completely wireless PC has long been desired, but the idea has faced much difficulty because of the need for connecting cables by PC peripherals, along with the system’s need for power.

Intel is looking to use WiGig, a new protocol that can deliver speeds of up to 7 Gbps, to provide short-range docking for display and connectivity The WiGig instantly connects screens and other peripherals when a tablet or laptop appears within the device’s range, and also instantly disconnects as the tablet or laptop is moved away. Users can project what’s on their computer screen to other computer screens wirelessly.

For power, on the other hand, Intel is looking at using Rezence, which Skaugen demonstrated. Rezence is a charging technology that uses magnetic resonance (The phenomenon of absorption of certain frequencies of radio and microwave radiation by atoms placed in a magnetic field. The pattern of absorption reveals molecular structure). The technology is promoted by Intel-backed group Alliance 4 Wireless Power. It can be placed underneath the surface of a table, with the system’s magnetic resonance able to charge devices through even 2 inches of wood. Also, unlike inductive chargers that can only charge one device at a time, magnetic resonance chargers can charge several devices all at once.

The system was also demonstrated by Skaugen at Computex, using a table installed with Rezence to charge a mobile phone, a headset, a laptop and a tablet simultaneously. Skaugen also announced new member companies of the A4WP, which includes Lenovo, Fujitsu, Dell, Panasonic and Logitech, to work with already partners Toshiba and Asus.

Let’s remind that the company Apple has dabbled into magnetic resonance charging technology in the past, filing a patent for the technology.


Body heat to create power for your smartphone

Simply by touching a small piece of Power Felt – a promising new thermoelectric device developed by scientists, Corey Hewitt (Ph.D. graduate student)  has converted his body heat into an electrical current. Comprised of tiny carbon nanotubes locked up in flexible plastic fibers and made to feel like fabric, Power Felt uses temperature differences – room temperature versus body temperature, for instance – to create a charge. The research team  is  from Wake Forest University, North Carolina, , Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials..

We waste a lot of energy in the form of heat. For example, recapturing a car’s energy waste could help improve fuel mileage and power the radio, air conditioning or navigation system,” Hewitt says. “Generally thermoelectrics are an underdeveloped technology for harvesting energy, yet there is so much opportunity.

Cost has prevented thermoelectrics from being used more widely in consumer products. Standard thermoelectric devices use a much more efficient compound called bismuth telluride to turn heat into power in products including mobile refrigerators and CPU coolers, but it can cost $1,000 per kilogram. Like silicon, researchers liken its affordability to demand in volume and think someday Power Felt would cost only $1 to add to a cell phone cover.