A magnetic membrane that uses warmth to generate electricity could eventually turn the heat given off by car engines, computers and factory boilers into usable power.
Researchers at NEC Corp. and Tohoku University have so far only generated tiny amounts of electricity using the new technology but believe they can increase its efficiency and output.
The new technique, the first of its kind in the world, puts a metallic membrane on a thin magnetic membrane. Changes in magnetic force caused by heat make electrons in the metallic membrane move, resulting in a current of electricity.
The researchers applied the membranes to small 5-millimeter by 2-mm glass pieces and produced 0.82 micro volts of electricity for each degree rise in temperature. One micro volt is a millionth of a volt.
They plan to increase the size of the surfaces they are working with and improve generating efficiency by increasing the thickness of the membranes.
More power could be generated if the membrane can be applied to larger areas, such as the exterior walls of buildings.
Although semiconductor chips capable of converting heat into electricity already exist, the existing technology is expensive and produces little power.
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