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Super Soaker Inventor Hopes to Double Solar Efficiency 288

Posted by timothy
from the if-they-get-too-hot-we-can-super-soak-them dept.
mattnyc99 writes "With top geeks saying photovoltaic cells are still four years away from costing as much as the grid, and the first U.S. thermal power plant just getting into production, there's plenty of solar hype without any practical solution that's efficient enough. Until Lonnie Johnson came along. The man who invented the Super Soaker water gun turns out to be a nuclear engineer who's developed a solid-state heat engine that converts the sun's heat to electricity at 60-percent efficiency—double the rate of the next most successful solar process. And his innovation, called the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion (JTEC) system, is getting funding from the National Science Foundation, so this is no toy. From the article: 'If it proves feasible, drastically reducing the cost of solar power would only be a start. JTEC could potentially harvest waste heat from internal combustion engines and combustion turbines, perhaps even the human body. And no moving parts means no friction and fewer mechanical failures.'"
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Super Soaker Inventor Hopes to Double Solar Efficiency

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  • by ZonkerWilliam (953437) * on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @07:38PM (#21976810) Journal
    As an excerpt from his web page states;

    "On the high-pressure side of the MEA, hydrogen gas is oxidized resulting in the creation of protons and electrons"
    Shouldn't that be ionized?
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @07:40PM (#21976844)
      Well, if he's oxidizing his hydrogen, I'd have to say he's all wet.
      • by AuMatar (183847)
        Exactly his plan! He then shoots the water out of a super soaker into a turbine, causing it to move and creating electricity!
    • by StandardDeviant (122674) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @07:44PM (#21976908) Homepage Journal
      It may be "oxidized" as in the opposite to "reduced". See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redox [wikipedia.org]

      (I haven't RTFA to figure out for sure, but if they're talking "hydrogen" on one side of a reaction and "proton/electron" on the other, it seems plausible on first blush.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      From TFA

      The engine does not require oxygen or a continuous fuel supply, only heat.

      This might just mean that oxygen is not consumed, while it could also mean the system contains no oxygen.
      But also...

      On the high-pressure side of the MEA, hydrogen gas is oxidized resulting in the creation of protons and electrons... On the low-pressure side, the protons are reduced with the electrons to reform hydrogen gas.

      Here it looks like the article describes the reaction: H => e- P+ => H
      So I think you might be ri
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Martin Blank (154261)
        It's equivalent, but more precise -- something that you might want and expect in a nuclear engineer. Some atoms oxidize to form ions, and others reduce to form ions. He's just specifying the particular direction.
    • Shouldn't that be ionized [not oxidized]?

      It's been a while since I took chemistry, but "oxidized" means increasing in oxidation number. (Doesn't have anything to do with oxygen.) I forget all the things that oxidation number thingy, but gaining an electron is one of them. So, they're similar.

      Would someone knowledgable tell me if all ionization is oxidization?

    • by secPM_MS (1081961) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @09:21PM (#21978138)
      My snake oil sensors are going off. To be blunt, I don't believe. Theoretical Carnot cycle limits on efficiency due to temperature differences (such as human body to air) are very low. This is what limited the ocean thermal energy systems, as the efficiencies were low and the amounts of matter you had to move past your heat exchanger were very large. The 60% number came from a high concentrator temperature. The reason we don't get such efficiencies with our power plants is material imitations, similar limitations will limit other approaches as well. We are going to have sizable energy losses going through the membranes and be very susceptible to cracking, pitting, and holes. Note that high temperature hydrogen is a rather chemically active environment. Current thermoelectric elements are not yet efficient enough to compete with closed cycle refrigeration systems. Why should I believe that he has a system that can get ~ 50% more efficiency than we can in highly optimized power plants? Note, reasonable increases in efficiency will be very valuable and are worth funding, but the spinmeister publicity is counter productive. Incidentally, I did my Ph.D in solid state thermodynamics some 25 years ago.
      • We are going to have sizable energy losses going through the membranes and be very susceptible to cracking, pitting, and holes

        Cool, then treat the membrane as a consumable and develop a process for moving the film past the rest of the structure.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mprinkey (1434)
        He claims that this is equivalent to the Carnot cycle...specifically it is an Ericsson cycle. It still has the same (low) fundamental efficiency for small temperature differences. This is unlike a fuel cell which is not a heat engine and the Carnot limit doesn't apply. His target application is solar concentrators so the temperature difference would be much higher.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jimdread (1089853)
      This page has a flash animated diagram of how it works, with wiggly lines going in the top on one side, and coming out the bottom on the other side, and black blobs zooming along one way and meandering back on the bottom. I don't know if that really helps people understand the device, but here it is: http://www.johnsonems.com/jhtec.html [johnsonems.com] I think that diagram would be much better if it had labels on it, like "wiggly lines are heat, black blobs are hydrogen ions, and electricity comes out where the plus and mi
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blincoln (592401)
        If you right-click on the animation and choose "zoom in", you can make out the blobs as being H(sub)2 (hydrogen gas) when floating between green areas and H+ (positive hydrogen ions) in the green areas. The description below is pretty good at getting across the concept.
    • oxidation is defined as removing electrons or hydrogen from a molseule. in the case of hydrogen, the first step in the reaction of hydrogen and an oxidizer [doesnt need to be oxygen] is to "remove" electrons from hydrogen to generate protons, all of this is a formality as protons are never found naked [in water they are H3O+ for example] but it is useful in the concept of the reaction. 4H+ + O2 + 4e- 2H2O basically there's a net transfer of electrons from one atom to another [that isn't even technical
  • by Otter (3800)
    ...double the rate of the next most successful solar process.

    I know nothing about this area, the guy is obviously smart and sane, and it would be fantastic if it worked, but ... my BS detector started blaring when I got to those words.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015)
      On the other hand, there aren't many solar processes that really qualify as "efficient" so he doesn't have to work all that hard to double them.
      • by Otter (3800)
        But thousands of people have worked really hard and we have what we have today! That doesn't mean that someone thinking outside the box couldn't come along and do twice as well, but it's improbable. Still, the best of luck to him.
    • Re:Hmmm.... (Score:4, Informative)

      by jdjbuffalo (318589) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @08:12PM (#21977296) Journal
      Normally I would agree with you here and while IANAP (Physicist) I think you are not interpreting what he is saying properly.

      He's not saying he found a more efficient solar cell (a doubling of that would be high on the BS scale). He is stating that he has created a new evolution of the Stirling Engine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_engine [wikipedia.org].

      From what I've read he looks to be on the up and up but again IANAP. Obviously since he has yet to have a production model we need to take it with a grain of salt but it looks very promising. *Crosses fingers*
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by smaddox (928261)
        It says it is more efficient than Stirling engines, but I wonder if it is more efficient than a full blown solar steam plant.

        However, I suppose it doesn't have to be if it can be used in confined areas.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by thejuggler (610249)
        The Stirling engine was the first thing I thought of when I read the description. The Stirling engine is very inefficient in practice and lacks any real world power, but considering when it was first invented it was a brilliant idea. It's about time someone went back to look at old ideas that were discarded to see if modern day technology can make the unfeasible feasible.

        This is probably better classified as a Solid State Stirling Engine (err, electrical generator).

        Cool stuff either way.
    • Re:Hmmm.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kesuki (321456) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @08:21PM (#21977412) Journal
      well your bs detector was good to be at high alert.

      Currently he has a working prototype that operates at 200 degrees centigrade. the theory implies that at 600 degrees it would achieve 60% efficiencies, existing solar (parabolic mirror based solar electric plants) operate at 800 degrees. since he has a system that works at 200 centigrade, it is not a massive power plant sized unit, that would need to be stable and still work in the 600-800 degree range. if his invention only works at 200 degrees centigrade, then it will never replace convention solar power models. but there are still many potential uses for a 200 degree centigrade model, such as using 'waste heat' from existing power plants to create 'more electricity' with less fuel.

      so yeah, i wouldn't hold my breath on this 'still working' at 600 degrees when the guy who invented it hasn't gotten to those temperatures yet.
      • by JDevers (83155)
        Don't existing plants operate at that temp just to maximize the difference between the hot and cold side of the thermal generator? That would imply that the waste heat of the solar plant wouldn't be nearly 800 deg C.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Firethorn (177587)
          The larger the temperature difference, the more efficient a theoretically 'perfect' plant can be. This is also true for real world plants, though engineering limits often restrict how high of a temperature they can sustain and use.

          Different technologies are differently capable at different temperature ranges - If this process is cheap enough and can get good results from a 'mere' 100 degree or so temperature difference, it can indeed increase the efficiency of many heat plants.
  • by onion2k (203094) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @07:44PM (#21976896) Homepage

    The man who invented the Super Soaker water gun turns out to be a nuclear engineer

    Energy efficient photovoltaic cells is fun and all, but clearly he's better qualified to invent nuclear powered Super Soakers.

    And I think I speak for all of the geek fraternity when I say we'd prefer them over some poxy solar panels.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by game kid (805301)

      ... clearly he's better qualified to invent nuclear powered Super Soakers.

      ...and to put them in the hands of sexy women wearing only t-shirts and panties! Ah, Super Soaker, you rival x-ray vision in your powers of revealing and fun.

  • by Dogtanian (588974) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @07:44PM (#21976906) Homepage
    The upside is that- like the Super Soaker- these panels will be far more efficient than their weedy predecessors.

    The downside is that- like the Super Soaker- they'll only be available in eye-searingly garish combinations of purple, red and fluorescent green and yellow.
  • ... perhaps even the human body.

    Does that sound a little to like the Matrix for anyone else? I'm not going to be a coppertop.
  • by msgmonkey (599753) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @07:52PM (#21977030)
    This is probably going to dent my karma, but what the heck:

    JTEC could potentially harvest waste heat from internal combustion engines and combustion turbines, perhaps even the human body.
    With this we can find all the power we need, the plan is to harvest humans, makes the Matrix look almost almost prophetic :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Actually, anyone who's had a stitch of molecular biology knows that Matrix won't happen. The basal metabolism of a human being is 1600 calories per day. I'm not sure how far a cryogenic state would lower that, but for argument's sake, we'll say that the basal metabolism of a "matrix" human would be 600 calories, an absurdly low number. That means that each person on the grid would be consuming 600 kilocalories every day. (the calories you see on the nutritional information are really kilocals) That chemical
      • by msgmonkey (599753)
        Obviously it was meant as a joke and I don't want to get more off topic than I already have. I'm just playing on the obession in geekdom with the film. Even if the energy element of the film was feasible other aspects just are n't; for example why use humans when there are less PITA forms of life?

        I also read somewhere that not getting out of bed for two weeks results a 60% loss in body effiency, so Neo would probably not even be able to open is eyes when he got out, let alone move his arms to remove the tu
      • Fortunately, the Matrix is more of an allegory on the philosophy of Idealism than a forum for discussing alternative energy.

        The original premise of the Matrix, according Wachowski brothers, was that the humans plugged into the matrix were being used as cogs in a massively parallel neural network mainframe computing cluster which ran the Matrix simulation and other non-physical agents and programs of the machines. The power came from fusion reactors. However, it was changed to the "humans as batteries" concept because the producers (or somebody higher up at Warner...the details are sketchy) thought that the former explanation (i

        • Interesting -- as you'll see from my other comment, I thought this would have made more sense.

          What I don't understand, from the story you relate, is this: What human being on earth isn't going to understand that:

          1. Human brains are like really powerful computers

          2. If you wire a bunch of them together, you get a REALLY powerful computer.

          Seems pretty straightforward to me. In fact, seems MORE straightforward than the idea that machines are somehow harvesting some kind of "energy" (?) from human beings.
        • However, it was changed to the "humans as batteries" concept because the producers (or somebody higher up at Warner...the details are sketchy) thought that the former explanation...

          Not to mention the product placement. At a very key point in the film, a Duracell is held up centre camera.

      • I agree. The concept would have been better if they said that the machines were harnessing the humans' collective *brainpower* in pursuit of some goal.

        (And perhaps, ironically, to support the matrix itself. Get it? Maintaining our own collective delusion, creating the chains that bind us, etc. etc.)

            - Alaska Jack
      • by novakyu (636495)

        That chemical energy is equivalent to the amount of energy required to heat 1 kilogram of water 600 degrees Celsius.

        I would have had much easier time taking the rest of your comment seriously if you said something more like 10 kg of water to 60 degrees C. Or, better yet, 10 kg of water to 70 degrees C from 10 degrees C.

        You can't heat water to 600 degrees C because that's far above the boiling point of water, and if you start out with 1 kg of water and try heating it to 600 degrees, well, that's going to take more than 600 kcal.

        Call me pedantic, but so was your post.

        • You can't heat water to 600 degrees C because that's far above the boiling point of water

          Horse petunias. Just raise the ambient pressure.

          • by novakyu (636495)

            You can't heat water to 600 degrees C because that's far above the boiling point of water

            Horse petunias. Just raise the ambient pressure.

            And I suppose someone actually built a container that can withstand that much pressure? Given that less than 400 degrees C requires over 200 atmospheres [gsu.edu] (and the relationship is definitely not linear---it seemed somewhat exponential, doubling every 50 degrees or so, but I'm not a chemist so I'm not the one to say), or that's about the pressure under 2km of water (for comparison, the deepest point in ocean is 11 km below sea-level).

            I suppose that's not overly unimaginable (if not impractical---you are build

  • I like the idea of a sealed unit without any moving (mechanical, anyway; I'm fairly sure the hydrogen gas moves about inside) parts powered by heat, but I'll be waiting until I see a working unit before I'd consider investing or whatnot. 2nd Thermodynamics seems to be something that'd need to be carefully considered, as this almost seems like a corollary of the Steorn business from a few months back.
  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @07:57PM (#21977102)
    I want to know more about the principle on which these work, but if they work and can me made inexpensively, they will be found absolutely everywhere where there is waste heat. Couldn't the go under photovoltaic cells - since they convert heat and not light, they could just use the temperature differential between the hot black cells and the surroundings?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KublaiKhan (522918)
      First thing I thought of, what with that article about $1/watt solar cells from a week or so back. CPU/GPU wouldn't be that great a source, I shouldn't think; best you could hope for is a slight offset of the power consumed. However, if they have a decent R-value, layer 'em in the attic under the insulation, and use the house heat--that might be workable.
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)
        If they had a decent R-value you wouldn't get much power out of them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        R-value is a measure of the speed of heat flow right?
        Insulation works by slowing the heat down enough that at some point the temperture reverses and so does the heat flow.

        So if they turn heat into Elec, that then gets used in the house, and generating waste heat, then they have a really poor R-value. Your still knocking the overall heat load down, but thats to world view for R to handle.
        If you use the elec. for outdoor applications then well your talking more reflective or thermal cavity type barrier.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      Actually I was thinking that it could make geothermal a lot more practical. Most geothermal steam is pretty low in temperature so this could really help with geothermal power systems.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      The article says the efficiency improves as the temperature increases. Besides, even if it didn't, the light to heat conversion that's a prereq is pretty much 100% efficient. There's no point in the photovoltaics.
  • Well, something I have learned through the years, If something is too good to be true, then it's really too good to be true ! It's exactly like 419 Fraud, too good to be true :).

    Now I am going to really read the article !
  • by MonorailCat (1104823) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @08:08PM (#21977266)
    The article doesn't say the device is good for 60%, it states IF they are able to design it to work with with high-temperature ceramics, and IF it is able to reach 600C, then CARNOT efficiency is 60%, of which this device will obtain some fraction.

    I didn't see any details on how this is any better than century-old heat engine ideas, unless the solid state design allows dirt cheap mass production, in which case he might be onto something...
  • by sirwired (27582) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @08:11PM (#21977286)
    I hope that it was an under-educated writer talking about harvesting waste human-body heat, and not the NSF or the inventor.

    Harvesting waste heat from a 98-degree human operating in even a 30 degree environment is only 13% efficient, at maximum. I just don't see it being real useful to try and harvest waste heat from an ICE or turbine. If a power-plant turbine had useful exhaust steam, they would already be using it to turn another turbine I expect.

    The fact it has no moving parts is nice, but how high could the efficiency possibly go?

    SirWired
    • by tsotha (720379)
      Yeah, but for this kind of thing efficiency doesn't matter, at least not by itself. What matters is cost. If I can make something to generate electicity from heat for only a few bucks, then it might make sense to wrap one around my muffler even if it's only 1% efficient.
    • Kalina cycle (Score:3, Informative)

      by ScottBob (244972)
      If a power-plant turbine had useful exhaust steam, they would already be using it to turn another turbine I expect.

      They are, with what's called a "bottoming cycle" that uses the steam that exits the low pressure turbine to heat a mixture of ammonia and water that boils below the boiling point of water alone, thus raising the working pressure enough to turn an additional turbine. This bottoming cycle is also known as the Kalina cycle, and is in use at combined cycle gas turbine plants (where the hot exhaust
  • I seem to recall that a sterling engine was one of the most efficient ways to convert solar energy to do work. How does this compare with a sterling engine?
    • by fritsd (924429)
      I take it you mean Stirling engine [wikipedia.org]. I don't really know; it's been decades since I learnt thermodynamics and I've forgotten most of it... The diagram on the web page does look like a Super Soaker to me, though.

      Maybe someone from Philips can comment?

    • Re:sterling engine? (Score:5, Informative)

      by The Master Control P (655590) <[ejkeever] [at] [nerdshack.com]> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @09:38PM (#21978316)
      This device runs on the same principle as a Stirling engine and it shares the same theoretical efficiency: (Hot temp) / (Hot + Cold temp), all in Kelvins.

      According to TFA, their first prototype is limited to 200*c because of material concerns. If they were to draw ice-cold water from the deep ocean as the cold side, it could theoretically acheive 473 / (473 + 273) or 63% efficiency. They talk about future materials allowing a hot side of 600*c, which despite being nearly twice the absolute temperature would only raise theoretical efficiency to 76%. Some sort of exotic oxide ceramic that could run at 1500 or 2000K would only add another 10% or so.

      What fraction of that efficiency this or other engines acheive depends on the design. I believe the most efficient toy stirling engines can reach 90-96% of Carnot efficiency.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by evanbd (210358)

        Your math is slightly off. Carnot's theorem [wikipedia.org] gives the max efficiency as (Th - Tc) / (Th), or (200 / 473) = 42%. That is, the fraction of the energy you can remove is exactly equal to the fraction of the temperature you can remove. Plugging in 873 for Th (aka 600C) and 300K Tc (a very good radiator), I get 65%, which is on par with TFA's 60% number.

        The interesting question is how close to theoretical they can get...

  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @08:26PM (#21977478)
    Because I am a liberal who is concerned about social justice, I get excited by technologies that could be used to increase energy consumption by folks who are lower on the socio-economic ladder. Increased use of energy consumption for things like refrigeration, home heating, and personal car transportation is something I don't think should be reserved for the upper classes. Inventions that lower the cost of personal energy consumption are worthy of attention and disproportionate investment from fair minded progressives.
    • Leapfrogging! (Score:5, Informative)

      by StefanJ (88986) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @11:22PM (#21979270) Homepage Journal
      It's a popular concept in some circles: [worldchanging.com] Use affordable high-tech devices to let folks in the developing world have a better life.

      An example are cell phones. They've brought connectivity to folks in even isolated villages who could not dream of getting a land line.

      Or the "life straw," a simple, cheap, but high-tech gadget that filters the filth and germs from streams. It's literally a straw.

      Or a simple solar-charged LED light. Hang it outside your hut in the day, bring it in at night so the kids can study or mom can make extra money doing piecework.

      A sturdy, self-contained solar electrical generator could act as an adjunct for a decentralized high-tech low-budget infrastructure. You'd use it to charge cell phones, XO Laptops (and their adult equivalent), and so on.
  • "If it proves feasible"

    In other words, yes, it is very much a toy for now.
  • First? (Score:3, Informative)

    by evilviper (135110) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @08:30PM (#21977534) Journal

    the first U.S. thermal power plant just getting into production

    Way to mis-quote. According to TFA, that's the first solar thermal MANUFACTURING plant... As in, they make the equipment. There are several U.S. solar thermal power plants, dating back to the 70s.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @08:38PM (#21977630) Journal
    In particular, with nuclear power plants AND geo-thermal. Our power plants dump loads of energy to the environment. This may possibly help with using more of that energy.

    Perhaps more important would be geo-thermal. It does not say what the temp differences need to be, but if it can work on ~ 100 degree difference, then this is the answer for the large number of dried up oil wells that have loads of heat down there. The big problem for USA is that we have a large number of wells where the max temp is ~170F. We could hook up a solar heater to carry it up in temp, but if this works, then it will enable these old wells to be re-used and new ones to be drilled.
    • If this works as advertised, It would be a *perfect replacement for turbines in power plants.

      *as long as you want DC power

      Now that you mention it, a certain new class of nuclear submarine was designed with an entirely DC electrical distribution system...
  • by divisionbyzero (300681) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @09:05PM (#21977968)
    It uses a temperature differential to produce energy but in this case the differential is created by solar energy heating one end rather than burying one end in the earth and the energy seems to be converted directly into electricity rather than steam to turn a turbine to create electricity. Clever, if it works.
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @09:17PM (#21978084)
    TFA Talks about pressurized hydrogen gas being diffused across a membrane(s) but it does not mention where the hydrogen gas is coming from. Now, I am NOT a physicist, but unless he has found a new and low cost way to obtain free hydrogen H2 gas then I doubt that his engine will be a substantial improvement over existing technologies since hydrogen gas is generally very energy intensive to separate from water or other reactions. Another problem is that hydrogen gas, particularly hydrogen gas under pressure, is extremely corrosive. It tends to want to diffuse through or undermine the integrity of any material that you attempt to contain it with. This is the reason why hydrogen gas, even though it is the most efficient known working fluid for Stirling Engines [wikipedia.org] is typically not used (Helium or Nitrogen is generally used instead or even just plain air). The difficulty and expense of separating and then containing the hydrogen gas within the engine is just not worth the trouble for the modest gain in efficiency over alternative working gases in Stirling engines. Perhaps someone with more background in physics can explain how the engine in TFA is different and solves these problems?
    • You cycle it (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @09:37PM (#21978300)
      As I read it, the hydrogen is cycled between the hot and cold sides of the cell. You don't need any more than the initial charge, just like the refrigerant in an air conditioner.

      What actually happens is the hydrogen is ionized, meaning the protons which make up the nucleus of hydrogen are separated from the electrons. The protons pass through a proton-permeable membrane and flow to the cold side through a tube. The electrons are collected by anodes and forced to travel through an electrical load to the other side in order to recombine with the protons.

      I'm honestly not sure of the specific details beyond that. I suspect hydrogen is used because it consists of only a proton and an electron. No pesky neutrons getting in the way and sapping energy with their mass without contributing a charge. I have no idea how they deal with hydrogen embrittlement or anything like that, because I suspect it would be a worse problem dealing with ionized hydrogen, but it may be a surmountable one.

      Based on how little information there is on the webpage, I'm guessing this project isn't very far along. At face value it sounds technically feasible, but I'll wait until they start reporting actual performance data to get excited about it.
      • The problem with hydrogen is that it is notoriously difficult to contain for extended periods of time (the reason why it is not generally used in Stirling engines despite the higher efficiency compared with other working gases). So the engine will require a steady stream of newly generated hydrogen to replace the hydrogen being lost to diffusion through the engine and hydrogen is expensive to generate so how much of the energy from the engine will be required merely to continually replenish the hydrogen sup
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Waffle Iron (339739)
          Given that prototype vehicles are currently in use which are fueled by hydrogen gas pressurized in tanks at hundreds of atmospheres, I doubt that the leakage problem is as severe as you make it out to be. What's more, if hydrogen is cheap enough to burn like gasoline, then replacing a little leaked working fluid that will get cycled hundreds of times in the engine wouldn't be any big deal.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by CodeBuster (516420)
            The hydrogen in these prototype vehicles is either burned directly in internal combustion OR it is converted back to water in a fuel cell cycle, but either way the hydrogen does not stay free for long, it is used in relatively short order after refueling. The difference between the engines that you are talking about and the engines like the Stirling and the one discussed in TFA is that the former are open-cycle whereas the Stirling and TFA engine are closed cycle. (i.e. the working fluid or gas never leaves
  • Nanotech Version (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196)
    I'm really waiting for the nanotech implementation of these heat engines. The nanoscale mechanics will be higher efficiency, and embedded as materials into PV materials, will seem to be simply high-efficiency solar panels, not complex machines. Maybe more than 70% efficient. And I expect they'll be lower-energy to manufacture with chemical processes, rather than mechanical assembly, and last longer, so their overall lifetime efficiency will be several times greater than today's.
  • Electric input ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by droopycom (470921)
    According to the diagram on the website, it seems that the low temperature stack is receiving electricity to "pump" the proton through the barrier and loose energy to heat dissipated.

    On the hot side, heat is absorbed and electricity is produced.

    Why would the electricity output be greater than the input.

    Also, in a fuel cell, one chemical reaction is Hydrogen => Proton + Electron, the other side of the barrier is Proton + Oxygen + Electrons => Water.

    How come this engine can regenerate Hydrogen on the ot
  • Patent 7,160,639 (Score:5, Informative)

    by k2backhoe (1092067) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @11:08PM (#21979172)
    Issued 1 year ago, this patent describes this system in great detail. I am doubtful it can work. The electric current out of the hot end of the device is less than or equal to the current in to the cold end (since the H circulates and each passage thru either side consumes or generates one electron). To create more electric power out than goes in, the proton exchange membrane would have to create significantly higher voltages at high temperature than at low temperature. But I believe the membrane voltage is pretty much limited to the ionization potential of H, and that is not going to change significantly over temperature). Lonnie Johnson sort of weasel-words around this in column 4 lines 30-50 of the patent body. This glossing over of detail is, to me, the most damning evidence (I am a PhD physicist with 89 issued US patents).
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @11:09PM (#21979180)
    May his efforts be more wholesome than the supersoaker oozinator [youtube.com]. Cuz that's just wrong.
  • by Danathar (267989) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @12:03AM (#21979596) Journal
    If he is getting NSF funding then his stuff has survived an NSF peer review panel or more. I work at NSF and I can tell you that scientists that sit on NSF panels (BTW they don't work for NSF but are asked to come) don't have a habit of rubber stamping stuff they think is BS. The Ego's involved don't allow it. If it is truly worth funding then some serious people have looked at his proposal and the science behind it.

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