A team of researchers at MIT have come up with a new twist on an old idea – generating electricity from heat. But instead of using boilers and turbines, they’re using specialized solar cells that use the heat to create infrared light at a specific frequency best suited to the cell. While thermal photovoltaic (PV) cells have been around for a while, the MIT team took the thermal PV concept and added a nanotech sized layer of tungsten to the front of the cell – when the tungsten is heated, it emits infrared light that is then used by the cell to create electricity. The cell is tuned to be most efficient at the exact wavelength of infrared light that the tungsten emits.
Looking forward, all sorts of efficiencies are possible. Since MIT feels that these cells would ultimately be fairly inexpensive (tungsten is a pretty common material), these cells could be used to generate electricity from almost anything that generates heat – a computer, a TV, your clothes dryer, etc). In other words, you’d be recycling the electricity that right now is wasted as heat back into electricity to power the device.