Researchers are developing a technique that uses nanotechnology to harvest energy from hot pipes or engine components to potentially recover energy wasted in factories, power plants and cars.

"The ugly truth is that 58 percent of the energy generated in the United States is wasted as heat," says Yue Wu, a Purdue University assistant professor of chemical engineering. "If we could get just 10 percent back, that would allow us to reduce energy consumption and power plant emissions considerably."

Researchers have coated glass fibers with a new "thermoelectric" material they developed. When thermoelectric materials are heated on one side, electrons flow to the cooler side, generating an electrical current. The glass fibers are dipped in a solution containing nanocrystals of lead telluride and then exposed to heat in a process called annealing to fuse the crystals together.

Such fibers could be wrapped around industrial pipes in factories and power plants, as well as on car engines and automotive exhaust systems, to recapture much of the wasted energy. The "energy harvesting" technology might dramatically reduce how much heat is lost, Wu said.

The coated fibers also could be used to create a solid-state cooling technology that does not require compressors and chemical refrigerants. The fibers might be woven into a fabric to make cooling garments.

Findings were detailed in a research paper appearing in the journal Nano Letters. To learn more, visit http://bit.ly/I2kFqY.

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