This project's funding goal was not reached on August 14, 2013.
This project's funding goal was not reached on August 14, 2013.
Our project is to create the world’s most efficient semiconductor chip that converts waste heat directly to electricity three times more efficiently than ever before. One that helps reduce waste heat in many industries, saving energy, reducing harmful emissions, and conserving natural resources worldwide.
We have created and successfully tested some prototype chips and modules. They work great, but we want to create 100,000 chips with further improvements in efficiency and cost, and freely deliver these demo chips to industry users for evaluation.
What is waste heat? Every year some $4 trillion is spent burning coal, oil and gas to produce energy, but half is lost as waste heat escaping from tailpipes, smokestacks, or hot industry processes. Just picture $2 trillion of waste heat escaping into the environment every year.
The MicroPower Chip harvests this waste heat by converting some of it efficiently into usable electricity. When placed on a hot surface, electrical power is generated...simple!
This is not a new scientific principle - it was first discovered in the 1800s and is generally known as thermoelectrics, but it’s always been inefficient and expensive. Until now - our breakthrough is high efficiency, low cost, and uses everywhere.
If you want to know more, have a look at this short video on YouTube, it’s a great explanation of thermoelectrics presented by the Naked Science Scrapbook. Or have a look at our website under the Technology section “How it Works”. For a quick appreciation, the short animation below is a simple guide.
A MicroPower Chip is clean, green, and sustainable. By producing more power from less fuel, we’re saving energy, and this means less waste and less carbon emissions in the atmosphere. We think it makes great sense to make the most of our natural resources - and we hope you do too.
Here are the key steps to making our prototype MicroPower Chips. It looks pretty simple, but there is lots of clever thinking and testing that went into making it this way!First, we mix, melt, and grow an ingot of high quality semiconductor material under tight control.
Then we hand slice the ingot into wafers, test, and polish each to a mirror finish.
Next, we use a high tech MBE tool to grow a very thin barrier on the wafers. This barrier is the “magic sauce” that helps make MicroPower Chips super-efficient.
Finally we dice the wafers into MicroPower Chips and test for electrical performance.
Providing they pass our rigorous testing procedures, chips can then be delivered, some individually, some for combining in small modules, and some in large arrays depending on the intended application.
PROPOSED USES FOR MICROPOWER CHIPS
One of the great things about MicroPower Chips is that they are extremely versatile - they can convert heat efficiently into power in so many places. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of how your help to create our chips could lead to energy savings across a broad spectrum of industries that have an impact on all our lives. Some users will have applications for single chips, perhaps in white goods for your home, to provide enough power for a sensor or warning light on a washing machine. Some will require an array of chips to capture exhaust heat from a car, or from a jet engine, and some will require multiple arrays to recover waste heat from a kiln or furnace at heavy industrial plants.
By the very nature of what we do, we don’t have a consumer product to offer backers (at least not yet) but as a special “thank you”, we are earmarking some of our future chips to be embedded in attractive displays for those who support our project.
We are working in partnership with Texas State University near Austin, with access to their facilities and expertise. The relationship started in 2010, and this link highlights the thoughts at the outset of Dr Tom Myers, Associate Dean, College of Science and Engineering. They have been great people to work with, and have recently completed the first building at a new science and technology park, where we will be housed.
We have created and successfully tested some prototype chips and modules. They work well, but we want to make further improvements in efficiency and cost, and we want to create a large number of demo chips which we can give freely to industry users. It’s the only way to get them to test and prove to their satisfaction that MicroPower Chips really will capture waste heat economically.
This will require a bunch of engineering tasks with different shapes and sizes for different applications, and we need to create thousands of chips to perfect the process. This is where we need your help, to finish the technology and give sample chips to industry users who are crying out for a solution to waste heat losses.
Please join us in this worthy project. You can watch us each step of the way as we move forward.
Our chips only work in high temperature industry and transportation applications so we can’t give you a cool consumer product…but…we can give you samples of our chips encased in displays and sculptures, of course, along with the satisfaction that you are helping create a technology that can save energy, reduce harmful emissions, and conserve natural resources worldwide.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How do the Chips work?
This all comes from a really old and simple physics principle discovered in the 1800s. It’s known as “Thermoelectrics”. With certain material (semiconductors) if one side is hot and the other side cool (less hot) an electric current will flow and can be drawn off the material for use. In general, the bigger the temperature difference the greater the current. In our case we can place MicroPower Chips against almost any hot surface where waste heat is escaping, and we keep the other side of the Chips as cool as we can, converting as much of the waste heat as possible directly into electricity.For more detail please have another look at the Naked Science Scrapbook link on YouTube, or visit the MicroPower website under the Technology Section “How It Works”.
What makes Micropower Chips special?
For years there have been thermoelectric generators and cooling devices, but they have always been inefficient, expensive, and only work in a narrow temperature range. Two things make our chips exceptional - first very high quality semiconductor material which has taken years to develop, and secondly the addition of a very thin layer of material called a barrier (this is the “magic sauce”). The combination gives a typical uplift in performance of 3 times the norm, and we think we can do better still in the future.
What are the Chips made from?
The semiconductor material we are using today (and there are others we may use in the future) is lead telluride. We grow it ourselves to a very special recipe, and like to think we will become world leaders in this field, right here in Texas. We like it because it works pretty well in the temperature range 200-600C (392-1112F) and that’s where there is lots of waste heat to recover. The material is used widely in infra-red sensors and tellurium is a common element in solar panels.
What will products look like?
Our main product is the chip itself, which is typically about 2sq mm – very small but very powerful. Some customers just want MicroPower Chips, with or without little contact leads to draw off the electricity. Some customers will use our chips in modules which can be shaped to their particular needs, and here each case may differ. Gas fired home appliances may just have single chips close to the pilot light, generating enough electricity for sensors and lights, whereas a car or truck may have a whole series of modules wrapped around the exhaust to capture the waste heat. In short, chips will be chips, but many industrial customers will use them as part of a device they design to suit their needs.
How can I use MicroPower Chips at home to save energy now?
Sorry, you can’t – at least not yet! Our primary objective is to persuade big industry to use our chips to reduce waste heat, save energy and reduce emissions, so we have not yet targeted consumer products for use at home. Next year we hope to have a small lightweight power pack for people to use off grid to recharge equipment (when hiking or camping or sailing etc). And perhaps other products too – maybe our backers will come up with a “best energy saving” winner.
How much energy will MicroPower Chips save?
Different folks, different strokes! In truth every application will be a bit different, but several parties we are working with estimate that use of MicroPower Chips will save around 10% of their energy costs or increase their electricity generated by 10%. For some, savings of this magnitude would transform their economics. This is consistent with a US DoE report in 2010 which estimated that a 20% efficient device on an auto would save 10% of fuel costs.
What are the environmental benefits?
Huge! If we can reduce the amount of waste heat belching into the atmosphere, we reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by a like amount. That directly helps to minimize the increase in global temperatures we may all face over the next decade or two. Can we recover all of that estimated $2 trillion of waste heat? Sadly no – it will take a whole village of technologies to do that, but we can make a real difference.
We face many of the same risks and challenges that all businesses experience as they grow, but we have already faced and overcome many hurdles along the way, so those that confront us now are not too daunting.
CAN WE FIND THE RIGHT ADDITIONAL PEOPLE AND EQUIPMENT?
We are always on the look-out for well qualified engineers and technicians with suitable experience to supplement the team, and lucky that our close association with Texas State University gives us access to graduates at all levels, some of whom have actually worked on the project as part of their studies.
WHAT IF THERE ARE UNFORESEEN TECHNICAL PROBLEMS ?
Bottom line, the straight answer is that could delay us. Much of the “heavy lifting” has already been done over the last few years in building our first prototype. Engineering the demo chips should be more straight forward but we still must apply ourselves with creativity and discipline. The schedule could slip but we will keep everyone informed.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
- (30 days)