Can This Alloy Metal Solve Our Energy Woes?

by / Monday, 22 January 2018 / Published in Electrical Testing

It’s a known fact that we humans use a lot of energy and we don’t even use it responsibly. But, here’s something interesting, even if we did manage our energy use, we’d still be wasting a lot of the energy. In fact, all that wasted energy is released in the form of heat and that’s how you get what is known as waste heat.

It all boils down to the laws of thermodynamics. All the machinery that you see around you need some amount of energy to run. Ironically, they also produce energy when they run or operate. This energy is released or rather, wasted, in the form of heat.

Imagine if we could tap into that wasted heat to create another source of dependable energy?

We Might Just Be Able To…

Exergyn, a startup based in Ireland, is trying to do exactly that. They have been developing a prototype that utilizes a shape-memory alloy metal to produce mechanical and electric energy from low-grade waste heat.

The shape-memory metal alloy used here is a superelastic metal of sorts. It can shift into a range of predetermined shapes when stimulated electrically or even when exposed to temperature changes. So, the actual application of this metal would be in the form of a morphing wire

Some Statistics

In the US, around one-third of the energy produced is lost as heat. A lot of this occurs via industrial processes, especially when water is used to cold down machines. In fact, some factories already make use of a small percentage of this wasted energy via a process known as the Rankine Cycle, which converts energy from water into electric power.

So, morphing wires made of shape-memory alloys would be far more effective at drawing out this kind of energy and they are far more environmentally friendly. You see, techniques such as the Rankine Cycle have to be regulated due to the use of chemicals. But, with a metal-alloy wire, things are much cleaner and safer.

Exergyn began the development of the prototype with the creation of nitinol wires. These are alloy wires composed of Titanium (Ti) and Nickel (Ni). Of course, nitinol is just a variation. There are other alloy-based wires that offer the same shapeshifting capabilities.

However, as of now, nitinol wires form a core part of the engine created by Exergyn. What this engine does it optimizes the shapeshifting capabilities of the wire and converts waste heat to renewable energy. For instance, when the wire touches hot water, it draws out a fairly powerful bit of energy.

Exergyn is still working on the engine and it recently received a grant of 10,000 Euros in the 2017 Sustainable Energy Awards.