The technology that has been developed is based on a type of energy recovery that converts thermal energy directly into electricity. The aim is to recover the wasted energy found in fumes (industrial, residential or from cars) in order to improve efficiency.
The device being presented is the fruit of the group’s research over five years. Different mathematical models have been developed over this period which predict the energy production of thermoelectric recovery devices in any kind of application. Devices have also been designed which, thanks to their innovative shape, allow a large amount of energy to be generated in a small space and weight. The electricity generated is used for other equipment in the system.
Currently, Europe pumps out 140TWh into the air in the form of heat. This means that more than 2000 million euros are wasted every hour. Moreover, all this wasted energy represents emissions of about 14,000 tones of CO2 into the atmosphere every hour. In recent years, several regulations have been drawn up aimed at improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore unsurprising that competitive sectors such as the automotive and metallurgical industries are interested in this technology.
In parallel, work is also being done on this kind of technology in domestic stoves and biomass boilers. The aim is improve efficiency and safety. At the same time, we are researching whether this technology could be useful in developing countries, where a basic stove, fuelled by wood, could simultaneously be used to generate electricity for basic activities such as lighting or charging up storage batteries. This device would complement other renewable energies, such as solar or wind energy, particularly at night or in periods of low wind intensity.
The group has obtained the support of the AGAUR through a LLAVOR (SEED) project in 2014 and also from the Iberdrola Foundation. They won the Volkswagen ThinkBlue award for research from the Catalan College of Engineers and were finalists in Acció’s VALORTEC contest, though which they received funding with a global value of approximately 60,000 euros.
Another outcome of this research has been the spin-off company Nabla Thermoelectrics S.L, created in order to bring this technology to the market. The business has received support from the Repsol Foundation and the ECOEmprendedorXXI prize for a total of 300,000 euros. They are also working with several businesses in the automotive industry to test the technology’s viability.
The technology is in line with several SDGs:
- Renewable energies: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
- Responsible consumption: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
- Fight climate change: take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
The main objective is to recover wasted energy and thus improve the energy efficiency of the system where it is installed. This will be more sustainable and will consume less energy. Secondly, thanks to improved use of the available energy, pollutant gas emissions will be reduced, which will help to combat climate change. And finally, it provides a reliable and affordable technology that can generate electricity anywhere from a heat source, guaranteeing access to energy for everyone.
It is expected that this project will have a major impact on society because the device fulfils the requirement to improve efficiency in thermal installations through the recuperation of residual heat, and complies with the Horizon 2020 European standards for reducing pollution and saving energy, and the EURO 6 standards for vehicles.
Several studies suggest that the market for this technology will reach $1.1bn by 2026, with many applications, principally in the automobile and industrial sectors, and also for sensors.
The cost of this technology has dropped considerably, and at the same time new, cheaper and more efficient materials are being tested, which suggests that this technology will play a major role in our daily lives over the next few years.