UCC researchers awarded €3.5 million to turn waste heat into electricity

If the project is successful, it could provide a major breakthrough towards sustainable global energy
UCC researchers awarded €3.5 million to turn waste heat into electricity

Led by UCC Professors Justin Holmes and Dr Subhajit Biswas, the project aims to construct a device that can harvest and store the waste heat produced by power generators, factories and domestic heating systems.

A University College Cork (UCC) led research project has received €3.5m in EU funding to convert waste heat into electricity.

The TRANSLATE project is one of only 58 projects to be funded under the EU’s latest Horizon 2020 EIC Pathfinder Open pilot programme (formally FET-Open) and will draw on the expertise of scientists from Ireland, Germany, Latvia, and Spain.

Led by UCC Professor Justin Holmes and Dr Subhajit Biswas, the project aims to construct a device that can harvest and store the waste heat produced by power generators, factories and domestic heating systems.

“Every day we lose 70% of all the energy we produce in our homes, offices and factories in the form of heat, which evaporates away into the atmosphere,” Professor Holmes said.

UCC Professor Justin Holmes has become the first researcher in Ireland to successfully coordinate two FET-Open proposals in H2020

UCC Professor Justin Holmes has become the first researcher in Ireland to successfully coordinate two FET-Open proposals in H2020

“The aim of TRANSLATE is to develop a reliable, low-carbon technology that can harvest as much as possible of this waste heat and turn it into electricity.” 

The technology required to convert heat directly into electricity has been around since the 19th century, in the form of thermoelectric generators, but these devices require costly, unsustainable materials and complicated fabrication methods, making them too inefficient and expensive to deploy on a global scale.

However, a recent materials science breakthrough made by researchers at the Technical University of Darmstadt has made it theoretically possible to construct a device that could overcome such obstacles.

Professor Steffen Hardt from the Technical University of Darmstadt said the principle is based on “nano-scale channels filled with a salt solution.” 

“When the end of one channel is hotter than the other, the difference in temperature causes the ions to redistribute inside the channel, which in turn creates an electric field along the channel. "

"This field causes an electric current to flow, which can be harvested, and thus, heat is converted into electric energy.” 

Dr Kafil M. Razeeb, who leads the Advanced Energy Materials Group at Tyndall National Institute, UCC said the TRANSLATE project will apply Darmstadt’s “cutting-edge theoretical understanding of how ions move through nanochannels, and develop this into a complete prototype device that can efficiently convert any wasted heat below 100 °C into usable electricity.” 

“We will build this using only low-cost and non-toxic materials in order to create a sustainable device that can power the future generation of wireless sensors and wearable tech.” 

Over the course of the next four years, Professor Holmes and his colleagues at UCC and Tyndall will be working in collaboration with researchers from the Technical University of Darmstadt, the University of Latvia and Spanish tech SME, Cidete.

If the project is successful, UCC researchers will have developed a device that has the potential to harvest one of the largest sources of clean and inexpensive energies available, and, if converted into electricity, could provide a major breakthrough towards sustainable global energy.

Stephen O’Reilly, the FET H2020 National Contact Point for Ireland at Enterprise Ireland congratulated Professor Holmes on his success and said TRANSLATE is “an excellent win for Ireland” in what was a very competitive call with a success rate of less than 7%.

“With TRANSLATE, Professor Holmes becomes the first researcher in Ireland to successfully coordinate two FET-Open proposals in H2020. This accomplishment is reflective of the excellent scientific research base in Ireland.”

This article was amended on 12 February to fix an omission.

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