Oregon Researchers Offer Breakthrough In Energy Efficiency

Waste heat from manufacturing could be recaptured and used to power plants.

Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have created a prototype that allows machines to capture and use low-to-medium grade waste heat for cooling and powering other machines.

Hailei Wang, a research associate in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU, led the group that created this new technology, which could be a major step toward addressing one of the leading problems in energy use around the world today.

Using our prototype, you can draw room air in and put out air that is five to six degrees cooler, Wang said. This could have huge implications for manufacturing plants, where you could capture waste heat from one machine and use it to cool another part of the process.

The prototype is called a "thermally activated cooling system." It gains much of its efficiency from small microchannels that help to meet the performance, size and weight challenges. It combines the vapor compression cycle with an organic Rankine cycle, an existing energy conservation technology.

The prototype completed at OSU succeeded in turning 80 percent of every kilowatt of waste heat into a kilowatt of cooling capability. Researchers at the school say the conversion efficiency wouldnt be nearly as high if the goal was to produce electricity (it would be between 15% and 20%), but its better than the current approach, which merely wastes heat.

Conceptually, because of its scalability, it could be possible for such systems to be used in hybrid automotive technology, taking waste heat from the gasoline engine and using it not only for air conditioning but to help recharge the battery that powers the vehicle, Wang said.

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