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Drew Dowdell

New solar panel design more than doubles the efficiency of previous designs

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Johnson, a nuclear engineer who holds more than 100 patents, calls his invention the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion System, or JTEC for short. This is not PV technology, in which semiconducting silicon converts light into electricity. And unlike a Stirling engine, in which pistons are powered by the expansion and compression of a contained gas, there are no moving parts in the JTEC. It’s sort of like a fuel cell: JTEC circulates hydrogen between two membrane-electrode assemblies (MEA). Unlike a fuel cell, however, JTEC is a closed system. No external hydrogen source. No oxygen input. No wastewater output. Other than a jolt of electricity that acts like the ignition spark in an internal-combustion engine, the only input is heat.

Here’s how it works: One MEA stack is coupled to a high- temperature heat source (such as solar heat concentrated by mirrors), and the other to a low-temperature heat sink (ambient air). The low-temperature stack acts as the compressor stage while the high-temperature stack functions as the power stage. Once the cycle is started by the electrical jolt, the resulting pressure differential produces voltage across each of the MEA stacks. The higher voltage at the high-temperature stack forces the low-temperature stack to pump hydrogen from low pressure to high pressure, maintaining the pressure differential. Meanwhile hydrogen passing through the high-temperature stack generates power.

“It’s like a conventional heat engine,” explains Paul Werbos, program director at the National Science Foundation, which has provided funding for JTEC. “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.”

Twice the thermal efficiency of the most efficient solar sterling engines and almost 3 times the efficiency of photovoltaics. It also doesn't require light to operate, just heat. Meaning anywhere you have waste heat you can collect that heat and turn it into electricity with his invention. It uses hydrogen, but in a closed system so that hydrogen refueling is not necessary.

Imagine: A Chevy Volt with an E-85 two cylinder that charges the batteries not only with rotational energy, but also the waste heat energy from the combustion process. The combined thermal efficiency would be unprecedented. Though the panels on the roof would minimize the need for the gasoline engine even further.

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now for the often critical questions:

How much does it cost to build?

How long does it take to pay for itself and become "profitable" (or does it)?

Sounds promising, though. :)

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It is a great prospect.

On a side note Drew, should we add a section for Alternative and Clean Fuel Research?

WMJ had posted some good posts about many, like extraction of Crude from Colorado Shell, Research from Purdue to extract Hydrogen from Aluminum etc. All these posts are hard to search.

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It is a great prospect.

On a side note Drew, should we add a section for Alternative and Clean Fuel Research?

WMJ had posted some good posts about many, like extraction of Crude from Colorado Shell, Research from Purdue to extract Hydrogen from Aluminum etc. All these posts are hard to search.

you know what, we already have one. I should have put this in there.

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