Since the days of the steam engines many different technologies have been designed to try and efficiently convert heat into electricity. Along with mechanical systems like steam engines and Stirling engines there are also methods of producing electricity directly from heat using thermoelectric materials — but so far these materials have proven to be either too expensive, to inefficient (or both) to be attractive in commercial settings.
Suzanne Jacobs has written an article for the MIT Technology Review reporting that a California company called Alphabet Energy is working on creating products using a naturally occurring mineral with thermoelectric properties called tetrahedrite which is much cheaper than currently used thermolectric materials.
According to data released by Alphabet Energy, tetrahedrite costs about $4 per kilogram, whereas other thermoelectric materials cost between $24 and $146 per kilogram. For now, the company is focusing on stand-alone generators, but founder and CEO Matt Scullin says it’s currently working with car companies to see if tetrahedrite can be used to harness heat from car exhaust.
A news release from Alphabet Energy on July 1 2014 announced that Dr. Douglas Crane, Director of Thermoelectric Engineering would be presenting a report at the International Conference on Thermoelectrics, July 6-11 in Nashville, Tennessee. I haven’t been able to find any reports coming from the conference yet, but the program is available here.
Alphabet Energy has been working in the field of thermolelectic conversion since 2008, and in the past has worked on silicon products. The company seems to be still in the R&D stages and while the MIT Technology Review article says that Alphabet Energy’s tetrahedrite products will be on the market later this year, I can’t find any clear indication of that from the company’s web site or news releases. This could be a company to watch, however, especially if LENR becomes a cheap source of heat. Any way to cheaply convert heat into electricity could be very useful.