New technology turns heat into electricity for cars, saves fuel

Tokyo-based Tech and machinery company Furukawa developed a thermoelectric conversion material that can supposedly boost the fuel efficiency of automobiles. Power is generated in the material through differences in temperature between its two sides.

Conventional thermoelectric conversion material warms up as a whole, when one side is exposed to heat. This method is said to be rather inefficient and proves to be too impractical to use in many potential applications.

Furukawa’s skutterudite-based material consists of antimony, gallium, indium, titanium and other substances. The company claims that with their invention heat is kept in one place and doesn’t spread to other sections.

Furukawa uses the material in a small module (50x50x8mm, 140g), which generates up to 33W when the top side is heated up to a temperature of 720 C and the bottom side maintains a temperature of  50 C. The company hopes to be able to attach their modules between the engines and mufflers in automobiles to partly convert exhaust heat into electricity.

Furukawa claims that attaching 20 modules to a car’s exhaust system in average results in the conversion of about 7% of exhaust heat into electricity, reducing fuel consumption by 2%. The company plans to further improve their system in order to be ready for mass production by 2011.

Via Nikkei [registration required, paid subscription]