Feeds

Super Soaker inventor touts solid state heat-2-leccy

Ex-NASA boffin could kill off wind and tidal

Build a business case: developing custom apps

A former NASA engineer, most famous for inventing the noted "Super Soaker" squirtguns, may be on the track of a radical new energy technology which could have important implications for power generation.

Popular Mechanics reports that Lonnie Johnson, late of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, believes he may be able to hugely increase the efficiency of converting heat into electricity. Since becoming rich on Super Soaker licensing, Johnson has used his cash to develop and patent various new technologies.

The latest of these he has dubbed the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion system (JTEC: technical details and Flash diagram from Johnson's company here). It's a "solid-state engine" which uses temperature differences to drive a closed hydrogen loop in which protons move across a membrane. This generates electricity, drawing energy efficiently from the heat source. Johnson thinks it will easily scale up to the megawatt range.

The US National Science Foundation believes that JTEC has potential, and has funded its development.

“It’s like a conventional heat engine,” the Foundation's Paul Werbos told Popular Mechanics.

“It still uses temperature differences to create pressure gradients. Only instead of using those pressure gradients to move an axle or wheel, he’s using them to force ions through a membrane. It’s a totally new way of generating electricity from heat.”

As Pop Mech noted, JTEC could be a big boost for "solar thermal" power generation. It might double the efficiency of plants which currently focus the sun's heat using mirrors to drive generators. (The founders of Google, who think that solar thermal is the way ahead for low-carbon power, will no doubt be interested.)

The article goes on to say that "solar [is] more expensive than burning coal or oil. That will change if Lonnie Johnson’s invention works..."

That's untrue, of course, as coal- or oil-burning generators also convert heat into electricity, with the same sort of low efficiency as solar-thermal does. Any benefit offered by JTEC would apply equally to fossil fuel power stations, leaving solar lagging behind as before.

If JTEC works it would also be a big boost for nuclear, gas, and all other heat-based power technologies.

It would be unlikely to benefit wind, tide or solar-photovoltaic, however, making these technologies significantly less economically competitive than they are now.

So the kit would be green, in that it would significantly reduce energy waste and thus cut down on fossil fuel use. But many orthodox greens would be depressed at the economic torpedoing of their favourite power technologies.

Nobody needs to get too excited, though: JTEC remains a long shot for the moment. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.