MIT Engineers Develop New Energy Source In a Thermal Resonator

The world is always searching for new and different energy sources and continually finds interesting options. Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found a cheap new source in a thermal resonator.

A thermal resonator takes advantage of the fluctuations in temperature that can be found in the cycle of day to night. It would seem with this particular source, we wouldn’t need to worry about running out of it, as we’re always going to be in that continuous cycle, especially when looking at it as a power source for remote operating systems.

“Ambient temperature fluctuations are a ubiquitous and mostly untapped energy resource,” explained an MIT graduate student, Anton Cottrill. He’s an author of a paper published in the Journal Nature Communications.

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“They surround us every day in a variety of contexts, and a great example that we are all very familiar with is the diurnal cycle, day and night temperature changes. We have demonstrated an optimized device, a thermal resonator, that is designed specifically to lock into a a particular temperature fluctuation frequency … and translate the fluctuations into electricity.”

This device takes advantage of “thermal effusivity.” This is the ability of a material to get heat from its surroundings.

“The thermal resonator is enabled by high thermal effusivity materials,” continued Cottrill, “[which are] materials that transfer heat with their environment very effectively. High thermal effusivity materials are characterized by high thermal conductivity and a high heat storage capability.”

It wasn’t enough just to define this energy source. The engineers created a material that would have those very characteristics. They coated a metal foam with a layer of graphene so that its thermal conductivity would be increased. They infused that created material with a phase-change material that has the ability to move between being a solid and being a liquid.

Of course this wouldn’t be newsworthy unless these engineers could see real possibilities for the thermal resonator and saw how it could make life easier for us.

“A great example is a wireless sensor node network which is desired to operate perpetually and autonomously for extended periods and often in remote locations,” said Cottrill.

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For these networks, batteries are currently highly relied on, but eventually they will need to be replaced or recharged. These networks could be in hard to reach places, yet the use of batteries deems them in need of being replaced eventually.

Think of the possibilities this could offer in the tech world. Solar energy is great, but it’s not always sunny. Turbines work well, too, but those depend on wind conditions. The temperature changes are always going to keep occurring,

Maybe tiny thermal resonators could be used instead to power things where draining batteries prove to be a problem. It doesn’t appear that’s currently on the table with thermal resonators, but it could be. If they can make calculators with solar energy panels, could they make phones with thermal resonator panels?

It’s certainly something to look into. What do you think? Are you of a scientific, technical mind where you can see real possibilities for a thermal resonator? Let us know in the comments section below.

3 comments

  1. 2 Words: Mars Rover.
    Once you fling one of these beautiful pieces of equipment into space, there is no maintaining it. If you can reduce or eliminate the battery limitation, you improve the effective lifetime of the equipment. This could be awesome if it is sufficiently powerful and efficient! So, rock on MIT!

  2. They speak of powering cellphones…..are there any disadvantages to this? (similar to how currently holding a phone close to your head exposes you to certain amounts of radiation) What are the tradoffs?…there’s no creating energy….just harnessing what’s already in existence. What does this type of energy “generation” give off?….if anything at all? I’d like to see more info on this.

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