Mind & Matter


New Metal Derives Electricity from Heat

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New Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10 alloy converts heat into electricity. Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota.


Energy-harnessing materials are typically designed to generate power from external, renewable sources such as the sun. However, one of the most significant energy sources is the heat produced by equipment such as computers, lighting, and mechanical systems in buildings.

Recently, scientists at the University of Minnesota developed a material that will convert this kind of waste heat directly into electricity. The substance is a multiferric alloy that exhibits a powerful phase change capability. Although it is an inert, non-magnetic metal at room temperature, the alloy develops a strong magnetic charge when heated.

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

The incorporation of the new alloy into heat-emitting building systems and equipment could lead to significant future energy savings.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.