Photo credit: Felice Frankel
Engineers from MIT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have designed a heat engine with zero moving parts, yet it’s still capable of converting heat to electricity with over 40% efficiency. Simply put, it’s a thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell, similar to a solar panel’s photovoltaic cells, that passively traps high-energy photons from an immensely hot (between 1,900 to 2,400° Celsius) heat source and then proceeds to convert them into electricity. Read more for a dditional information.
The engineers plan to integrate this TPV cell into a grid-scale thermal battery, a system that would absorb excess energy from renewable sources like the sun and store it in heavily insulated banks of hot graphite. When the energy is required for use, such as on overcast days, TPV cells would then convert the heat into electricity, and disperse the energy to a power grid. The next step would be integrating the parts to demonstrate a fully operational system and then eventually scaling things up to replace fossil-fuel-driven power plants as well as enabling a fully decarbonized power grid that is supplied entirely by renewable energy.
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Thermophotovoltaic cells were the last key step toward demonstrating that thermal batteries are a viable concept. This is an absolutely critical step on the path to proliferate renewable energy and get to a fully decarbonized grid,” said Asegun Henry, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.