NASA tech that converts heat into electricity may recharge your car battery one day

A sample of skutterudite.
It’s probably something you learned in grade school: when energy is transformed from one form to another, a whole lot of it is lost to heat. But what if there was a material that could funnel that waste back into the system for reuse? Heat from exhausts could charge the car battery, for one, and industrial processes responsible for generating a lot of heat — fabricators of ceramic and glass, for example — could become a little less reliant on the power grid. Enter the thermoelectric materials from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The materials, which NASA has licensed to NY-based fabricator Evident Technologies, are minerals called skutterudites. Primarily composed of cobalt with variable amounts of nickel and iron, their chemical makeup is well-suited to converting heat to electricity. They’ve been historically difficult to produce quickly and cheaply, but NASA’s discovered a commercially viable way to make them at scale.

It helped that NASA’s no stranger to the materials. The agency’s long history with skutterudites began at the dawn of spaceflight; scientists, forced to find alternative power sources for travel in areas absent of sunlight, settled on thermoelectrics. Voyager 1 and 2, in fact, rely on radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), or components that convert heat from radioactive decays into electricity, for energy. Both are still in operation, 35 years after their launches.

Evident Technologies plans for the technology are a little more terrestrial. “We feel that there is an unmet need for customers who want to convert high-temperature heat into electricity,” said Clint Ballinger, CEO of Evident Technologies. “We are excited to capitalize on these NASA advances and plan to launch commercial products very soon.”

Very soon, in this case, means about three months. That’s a pretty fast turnaround, and an exciting development for a broad swatch of industries. Longer-lasting hybrids, anyone?


Nvidia faces attacks from AMD, Intel, and even Google. Should it be worried?

Nvidia announced an expanded array of RTX server solutions designed to leverage the power of ray-tracing at GTC 2019. The effort will help Nvidia take on Google's Stadia in game streaming with GeForce Now, and the company's investments in…

Fiat wants to transform the cheeky 500 city car into an urban Tesla

Fiat is finally preparing a new 500. Scheduled to make its debut in early 2020, the retro-chic city car will go electric in part to comply with looming emissions regulations.
Emerging Tech

Desk lamps take on a new task by converting their light to power

What if we could charge devices using light from indoor sources like desk lamps? A group of scientists working on a technology called organic photovoltaics (OPVs) aim to do just that.

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.
Emerging Tech

Tombot is the hyper-realistic dog robot that puts Spot to shame

Forget Boston Dynamics’ Spot! When it comes to robot dogs, the folks behind a new Kickstarter campaign have plans to stake their claim as makers of man’s (and woman’s) newest best friend.
Emerging Tech

Twitter is officially a teenager now. Are we raising a monster?

On March 21, 2006, Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet. Thirteen years later, Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. Here are some of the myriad ways it's done that.
Emerging Tech

Researchers gave alligators headphones and ketamine, and all for a good cause

Researchers in Germany and the United States recently gave ketamine and earphones to alligators to monitor how they process sounds. Here's what it reveals about alligator evolution.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers plan to beam Earth’s greatest hits into deep space, and you can help

A new project from the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) will give the public the chance to submit compositions to be beamed into space, with the aim of connecting people around the world through music.
Emerging Tech

Scientists have a way to turn off alcoholism: Blasting the brain with lasers

Researchers from Scripps Research have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the desire to drink in alcohol-dependent rats by targeting a part of the brain using lasers. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

China has cloned its best police dog. Now it wants to mass-produce more

Scientists in China have cloned the Sherlock Holmes of police sniffer dogs, with possible plans to mass produce it in the future. Here's why its creators think that's a great idea.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can comfortably fit on the side of your desk… well, Danish company Cobod International’s enormous new 3D house printer probably isn’t for you.