October 26, 2007 11:32 AM PDT

Creating power out of thin air

Syrdec is swinging for the fences when it comes to alternative energy.

The Princeton, N.J.-based company is working on a material that, when combined with another substance, will generate electricity with ambient room heat, Andrew Surany, the company's president, told CNET News.com this week.

Conceivably, one could take that material and fashion it into a passive fuel cell that can create power by just sitting in an ordinary room heated to about 72 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to self-charging electronic devices.

"It derives heat from the environment" and converts it to electricity, Surany said. "I'm talking about embedding cells into doors or the panels on a car. In a laptop, I am talking about embedding cells into the case."

And no, it won't suck out all the heat like some freakish invention from Mr. Freeze on the old Batman show. As long as the sun doesn't explode or Earth doesn't get plunged into nuclear winter, it conceivably could produce electricity without effort indefinitely.

Theoretically, one could heat the material, too, to get better results. If you heated one square meter of the material to 100 degrees Celsius, or the boiling point of water, the material could absorb 1.2 kilojoules of heat energy. Converting 5 percent of that heat to electricity would give you enough energy to power a car, Surany asserted.

So how does it work? Syrdec is trying to combine something called the Seebeck effect and the product of nuclear fusion. In the Seebeck effect, electric current can be generated from temperature differentials. Put metals or semiconductors near each other that exist in radically different energy states and you get power. It's not just theoretical: Germany's EnOcean, another energy-harvesting specialist, has come up with sensors that get power from the temperature differentials between the interaction material that makes up a pipe filled with hot gases and a material heated to room temperature.

Now the nuclear fusion part: Syrdec says it understands a way to artificially alter the natural energy state of a particular undisclosed material. Instead of being in a "normal" energy state at room temperature, the altered material is in a normal energy state at, hypothetically, minus 40 degrees Celsius or colder. Thus, when this material is put into a room-temperature environment, it's excited. Put that next to a material with a much higher natural energy state and you get the Seebeck effect.

"We are looking to create an artificial energy state inside the molecular structure of the substrate," Surany explained. "The materials are unique and specialized. They were brought to our attention through nuclear fusion research."

Outlandish as it sounds, the CEA, the atomic energy agency of France, has already concocted a microgenerator that can produce electricity at ambient temperatures via the Seebeck effect. The thermoelectric generator in CEA's prototypes has an output of 4 milliwatts per centimeter square for every (Celsius) degree difference between the two materials. The India Institute of Science also has examined ways of generating power via the Seebeck effect with changes in pressure.

Syrdec's fuel cell doesn't exist yet, but theoretically it's possible, Surany said. (The material altered by nuclear fusion, by the way, isn't radioactive.) Even if one can be made, there are other complications. How small could such a fuel cell be? How does it do with recharging?

Although the fuel cells would ultimately produce electricity by just sitting around, producing the materials for the fuel cells takes a lot of power. "Manufacturing is energy-intensive," Surany said.

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27 comments

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Wide Range
I live in Vegas, you place this on car covers and roofing tiles you could power houses and plug in hybrids. Pretty sweet deal.
Posted by micahlandis (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
only time will tell
Well hopefully something comes of this it seems like it would be nice enough to add to the global alternative energy basket. I guess everything will just keep chiseling away.
Posted by chuchucuhi (233 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No freakin' way
This clearly violates the laws of thermodynamics. And the "altering the energy state" thing sounds like magic, and not in a good way. This is flat impossible.

Next time, CNet, how about calling a physicist before reporting on this woo? I wonder if you're not being used to perpetrate stock fraud or something...
Posted by Harlan879 (130 comments )
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"Syrdec"??
Also, there's no such company as Syrdec. At least, Google doesn't know about it.
Posted by Harlan879 (130 comments )
Link Flag
laws
It in no way violates the laws of thermodynamic.. do you know what you're talking about? Heat is energy, and there is plenty of energy in the air on Earth. I would assume that this device would also cool the air by counter-effect, due to absorbing the heat-energy, so I'm not seeing any laws broken.

Maybe you could specify exactly why you think that..

Don't get me wrong, I don't think this product will ever make it into consumer's hands because the materials used and the manufacturing process will be far too expensive for anyone wanting to power a laptop. Also, I'm doubtful of the reliability and whether it could be made small enough to be practical.
Posted by assman (1101 comments )
Link Flag
maybe not laws of thermodynamics, but something is fishy.
For the Seebeck effect there has to be a temperature difference. Thus having both materials at room temperature isn't going to work.

The mention of a material maintaining an energy state from a a different temperature is just...strange!

Cnet, a physicist's review of the claims would be an excellent addition to article.
Posted by jgt10 (8 comments )
Link Flag
Seebeck + storage?
Just to play the mental game, I'm trying to assume that they in fact have a way to store energy and later generate electricity with that energy, and that perhaps the writer didn't understand something.

What I'm picturing is a device that sets up a Seeback-like state, but doesn't immediately discharge the electricity and instead stores it for later discharge. It would be a battery that gets recharged by heat and kept that energy stored in some state even when the material has returned to room temperature for later retrieval? I dunno, just guessing.

Of course it's impossible to generate electricity with no temperature differential, but maybe there's something interesting there like the equivalent of a solid-state fuel cell...
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
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Snake oil, anybody?
This conpany will indeed succeed in generating... money from the investors' pockets. Don't expect anything else, though.
Posted by alegr (1590 comments )
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Fusion
It seems that the fusion they need is the stumbling block from taking it out of the lab to normal reality.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Link Flag
Sony exploding batteries perfect for maximum heat...
All those sony batteries would be perfect for heat generation.
Posted by basraw (310 comments )
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This is complete baloney
As a nuclear engineer, I'd have to say these claims are absolutely ridiculous. When you fuse Triutium and/or Deuterium you could get He5, He6, or He7. He6 and He7 have very short half lifes and eventually decay into Li6. He5 decays into He4 almost imediately. There's nothing magical here that can make electricity out of nothing.

You can get power through temperature differentials, like with RTGs, but the key word here is "Differential" If the whole system is at room temperature and nothing is producing heat (like through nuclear decay) there's no differential.

Conventional power plants also get power from heat through the rankine cycle, but again you need a fairly high heat source.

It seems to me these people are trying to defraud someone.
Posted by gatornuke (27 comments )
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You Said It.
It's the heat differential. If the outer layer draws heat, something cools off. If you can use that to create the differential, you then have potential.

It depends on how much of a differential you need and how they create it to begin with. Once going though it should sustain. Unless you forget to pay your heat bill. Ultimatly it's converting heat you generated into power for your device.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Link Flag
"Imagine a material that can suck..."
I think this is achievable.
Posted by troppp (58 comments )
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Somethings wrong
the rough concept sounds like the reverse of heat sink (that uses
energy), those of you who have used that to cool off sensitive parts
on boards will know what component I am talking about. In rare
cases you need to keep parts warm when in cold environments.

Somethings not quite right about this story, there is something
missing for it to function properly, if the story is legit.
Posted by Travis Ernst (170 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Saw this...On Stargate..pfft!
Artificial thermal state? Isn't that like making jello in the fridge and then putting it on the counter and claiming it's still at 45 degrees a couple of hours later because it's still solid? No, these clowns need to go back to high school and study thermodynamics
Posted by krosavcheg (262 comments )
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Why high school
The only thing the guys need to know is VC BS 101 (Venture Capitalists Bull Schitting).
Posted by alegr (1590 comments )
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Thin Air
I think I read something about perpetual motion machines. Hmmm... Like they don't exist? Hey? Where's my free lunch?
Posted by spothannah (145 comments )
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^This
^This.
Posted by Mousefinger (34 comments )
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Basicly....
Basically, you have a material that a absorbs heat energy and transforms it to electrical energy.

This sounds an awful like phase transitioning of energy between a low potential and a high potential object, remember that?

While I would like to think that this would solve the world's energy needs, even an optimist must note three things.

1) The conversion rate would be so poor that you'd need to move to Phoenix and to coat your roof with this stuff, just to recharge your cell phone.

2) This wouldn't last forever, the material would loose its potency with time.

3) With our current level of technology the cost of such a material would make it so much less commercially viable than regular batteries. Nobody would market it and nobody would be able to afford.

Nice idea, but too startreky.
Posted by perfectblue97 (326 comments )
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Errors in reporting
This device (and other similar devices) do not convert heat into energy, it converts a temperature difference (a heat flow from warmer to cooler areas) into energy. If both sides are at the same temperature, it produces no power regardless of how high the temperature is. The power output is determined by the rate of heat flow, and the efficiency is effected by the temperature difference - the greater the difference, the more efficient it is. Still, efficiency and power output of Seebeck devices is quite low.

Also, the device is not a "fuel cell". Fuel cells use fuel and an oxidizer in a chemical reaction to produce electricity. Fuel cells do not rely on temperature differences to produce their power, and are much more efficient than heat powered devices.
Posted by albizzia (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
so
"Outlandish as it sounds, the CEA, the atomic energy agency of
France, has already concocted a microgenerator that can produce
electricity at ambient temperatures via the Seebeck effect."
Posted by reyes89 (33 comments )
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living struggle
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer Everest deals with trespassers harshly: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.letraspedia.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.letraspedia.com</a> the dead vanish beneath the snows. While the living struggle to explain what happened.
Kallos - <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.letraspedia.com/letras/e3.php" target="_newWindow">http://www.letraspedia.com/letras/e3.php</a>
Posted by letraspedia (4 comments )
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