Harvesting wasted energy from unexpected places is one of our favorite topics at Inhabitat, however one of the last places we’d look for a “clean” energy source is the tailpipe of a car. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have announced that they are working on a new type of carbon nanotube thermocell that is capable of scavenging wasted energy from a vehicle’s exhaust system at a lower cost than ever before.

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Like regenerative braking for electric vehicles, building a thermocell into a car’s exhaust system seems like a simple way to recapture heat that would otherwise be wasted. Whereas the most effective thermocells to date rely upon expensive platinum electrodes, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have shown that carbon nanotubes can be used to create cheaper cells that are three times more efficient. The tech works using two electrodes positioned at two different temperature zones. As one electrode heats up, it pushes electrons through an external circuit containing a mix of chemicals to generate current.

The researchers have already developed a prototype that is designed to be wrapped around a hot pipe (e.g. tailpipe) and is able to produce energy at a similar cost-per-watt as commercial solar. The device functioned for 90 days and was able to produce energy for $5.14 per watt, putting it on par with the production capacity of silicon solar cells.

The technology isn’t a green fix in and of itself — it still relies upon heat from fuel combustion to produce electricity — but as we make strides towards more efficient vehicles why not capture all of that wasted energy they expel?

+ University of Texas at Dallas

Via News Scientist

Lead photo by Simone Ramella