A team of Monash University researchers, led by Professor Doug MacFarlane, has developed an ionic liquid-based thermocell. Thermocells harness the thermal energy from the difference in temperature between two surfaces and convert that energy into electricity. The new thermocell generates more electrical energy than any previous power cell operating in a similar temperature range.
The major benefit of a thermocell is that it can harness energy that is otherwise lost to surroundings – relieving some need for fossil fuels.
The Monash device is based on a novel liquid redox electrolyte and offers the possibility of a cheap and flexible design suitable for harvesting waste heat in the 100 to 200°C range. For example, it the could be used to generate electricity from low grade steam in coal-fired power stations at temperatures of around 130°C. This would be done simply by having the steam pass over the outer surface of the hot electrode, while the other electrode is air or water cooled.