Nanotechnology insulation to generate electricity

Nanotechnology insulation to generate electricity

[UPDATE: see the comments for some skepticism about this product.] Normally we only expect insulation to save energy, not generate it. Now a nanotechnology-based coating will move the state-of-the-art to the second category, as brought to our attention by Meridian:

U.S. company Industrial Nanotech, Inc. is developing a thermal insulation material that can use the temperature differential created by insulation to generate electricity. Industrial Nanotech CEO Stuart Burchill said: “The benefit of a thin sheet of thermal insulation that could be used in the walls or attics of homes or in the walls of commercial buildings and, instead of just helping conserve energy could create energy, is incalculable. The fact that there is almost always, day or night and anywhere in the world, a difference between the temperature inside a building and outside a building gives us an almost constant source of energy generation to tap into.”

Very cool. Near-term nano is starting to really deliver. Just wait until more advanced Productive Nanosystems arrive. To hear about those, join us next week at our conference in the DC area (PDF) on Oct. 9-10. —Christine

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  1. mike October 6, 2007 at 10:27 am - Reply

    wait a minute… converts heat into electricity; so, it absorbs heat generated by the furnace primarily and converts ir into electricity. Doesn’t that just make the furnace work harder? Aren’t we just using the furnace to generate power?

  2. Ethan Walker October 7, 2007 at 1:49 am - Reply

    I’m sorry, but it seems like there is something fundamentally wrong with this idea. To generate power, you need not only a thermal gradient, but also a flow of heat, which is not a desirable feature for an insulator. You could generate more power by allowing more heat to escape from the structure, but you would only be able to regain a fraction of the power you had lost by using an inferior insulator.

  3. Brett Bellmore October 7, 2007 at 6:33 am - Reply

    There’s nothing cool about it. Basic thermodynamics: You can only extract energy from a temperature difference by allowing heat to cross it, IOW, by *not* insulating. And the low temperature differences in the circumstances where this non-insulating “insulation” would be used imply very low efficiency.

    So, you put insulation around a building to reduce heating and cooling costs, and then deliberately let 20-30 watts of heat cross the insulation, boosting your HVAC energy consumption by at least that much, in order to generate 1 watt of power? I don’t think so.

    The proposed product would, as mandated by basic laws of physics, be both a lousy generator, and a lousy insulator.

    Ok, I can see circumstances where it might be advantageous to deliberately enhance heat flow out of or into a building, for instance a large office building where waste heat exceeds heating requirements in the winter. Even then, though, I believe you’d almost certainly be better off with really good insulation, and a fan exchanging air with the outside.

  4. Adrian Wilkins October 7, 2007 at 9:39 am - Reply

    It is rather disappointing to hear the CEO of a tech company claiming that his technology “creates energy” though. Reclamation, yes. Creation, no.

    Without numbers I’m not enthused (yet). But the exposure of the idea is very encouraging ; it’s nice to see concepts that would previously have been dismissed as science fiction in many circles being taken seriously enough to enter a press release.

  5. Ralph Lausa October 23, 2007 at 8:48 am - Reply

    All comments previously not withstanding I’m willing to await the numbers.
    It’s clear that “perfect” insulators do not exist. Therefor some heat/electric loss in practicality is always available. Low levels of such wattage could place the small amounts generated in more concentrated regions as, for example, the underside of a household’s roof discouraging the growth of molds. Instead the heat loss by convection is almost all lost through passive ventilation. Although the amounts of generated electricity are probably modest the transmissability as electric current becomes potentially useful over short distances.

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