Space power engineers can use these devices to produce custom fit power generation systems directly on surfaces with high temperature differences such as the hull of a space vehicle, satellite thermal busses, and extraterrestrial shelter materials. These large-area, integrated thermoelectric sheets will provide a means to maximize the extraction of otherwise wasted heat for both NASA and commercial applications such as automotive/aerospace exhaust systems, effluent piping, and petrochemical refining equipment. The proposed device embodiment is the only significant concept amendable to attachment to the contours and surfaces of space vehicles and as such will have a significant impact on generate power during space missions.
Unrecovered waste heat from energy-consuming industrial processes is estimated by the DoE at 5-13 quads/yr (1 quad = 1015 BTU). Assuming a conservative 9 quads, 6% efficiency for TE devices constructed with our approach, 50% losses due to parasitic heat transfer losses and integration, and penetrating 10% of the waste heat market, we estimate an economically viable TE device could enable recovery of ~20 trillion BTU of waste heat/year. Additionally, the incorporation of TE devices in automobiles can improve the efficiency of their power system by up to 5%. This level of waste heat energy recovery would lower the average consumer gas consumption ~15-20 gallons per year on a 750-gallon consumption/year basis with a cost savings on the order of $70-$100/year. A low-cost manufacturing solution at the ~$100 price point would pay back in the first year, passing the savings onto the lifetime of the device, which based on non-moving parts, should be relatively long. Technologies such as our proposed effort that lead to quasi-renewable energy recovery, or energy that would otherwise by radiated as waste environmental heat, will have a far-reaching impact on the world's energy consumption, including lowering the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Next to solar energy, waste heat recovery is the most available secondary power source.