As far as this writer is concerned the only connection between Super Soakers and solar power is that if the sun is out, a water fight could be in the cards. However there is another link – the inventor of the famous water gun on steroids, Lonnie Johnson, has now decided to tackle renewable energy by creating an energy converter that could “double the efficiency of solar power.” Cool.
Although Johnson has been pretty quiet since 1990 when he invented the soaker, The Atlantic is reporting that he has now created the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter (or JTEC). Johnson states he believes the device could make solar power “rival the kind of output we enjoy from a long-established source like coal, as long as there is heat to keep things going.”
Current solar converters transform around 20% of the solar energy into electricity, however Johnson’s JTEC could reportedly double that efficiency. It also produces no waste and has no moving parts, making it easy to produce. Talking up the product, Paul Werbos, director of the National Science Foundation, says “It has a darn good chance of being the best thing on Earth.”
So how does it work? Well, put simply…
The law says that temperature differences tend to even out – for instance, when a hot mug of coffee disperses its heat into the cool air of a room. As the heat levels of the mug and the room come into balance, there is a transfer of energy. Work can be extracted from that transfer. The most common way of doing this is with some form of heat engine…Johnson’s latest JTEC prototype, which looks like a desktop model for a next-generation moonshine still, features two fuel-cell-like stacks, or chambers, filled with hydrogen gas and connected by steel tubes with round pressure gauges. Where a steam engine uses the heat generated by burning coal to create steam pressure and move mechanical elements, the JTEC uses heat (from the sun, for instance) to expand hydrogen atoms in one stack. The expanding atoms, each made up of a proton and an electron, split apart, and the freed electrons travel through an external circuit as electric current, charging a battery or performing some other useful work. Meanwhile the positively charged protons, also known as ions, squeeze through a specially designed proton-exchange membrane (one of the JTEC elements borrowed from fuel cells) and combine with the electrons on the other side, reconstituting the hydrogen, which is compressed and pumped back into the hot stack. As long as heat is supplied, the cycle continues indefinitely.
Johnson and his team had already been given $75,000 from the National Science Foundation back in 2006 and it looks like within a few years, the JTEC could be a reality.
Image credit: Ben Baker/Redux