Shape-Shifting Alloy Metal Produces Electricity From Wasted Heat

Imagine billions of dollars in energy being lost in the form of waste heat. What if a shape memory alloy metal and hot water could be used to create a dependable fuel source? The solution could reduce global carbon emissions by harnessing wasted heat energy.

Dublin-based Exergyn, a start-up in Ireland and the U.K., has been developing this groundbreaking delta prototype that could create electric or mechanical power from low-grade waste heat by using a shape-memory alloy metal.

The application is based on a morphing wire made out of the shape-memory alloy that is a superelastic metal. The metal could shift into and out of predetermined shapes when subjected to specific temperatures or an electric stimulus.

Sources reveal that in the US, around a third of the energy is lost as heat. Rigoberto Advincula, a macromolecular science professor at Case Western University, explains that the energy is wasted in the industrial processes when water is used to cool off machinery. Some power plants use a process called the Rankine cycle, which converts a small percentage of energy from water into electricity.

In the context of restricted use of some chemicals that are considered harmful to the environment, morphing wires offer a good solution and are the heart of Exergyn’s new engine. The start-up brought together brainpower to create nitinol wires. Nitinol is an alloy of nickel (Ni) and titanium (Ti), and the NOL referring to the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, the invention place of the metal. Nitinol is a variation of the shape memory alloy.

Exergyn’s engine optimises on the shape-shifting behaviour and turns waste-heat into renewable electricity. Alan Healy, Exergyn’s CEO, reiterates that the hot water that comes in the wire contracts a powerfully small amount of energy.

Meanwhile, a prototype in Exergyn’s Dublin offices has the potential to pump out around 5 kilowatts of electricity. The start-up has also won a €10,000 bursary in the research category of the SEAI (Sustainable Energy Awards) 2017.

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