New techno-economic model supersedes predecessor frameworks to optimize waste-heat conversion technologies

Each year, across the world, 50 percent of energy generated from coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable sources is lost as heat. For decades, scientists have made efforts to develop efficient systems that could use this untapped resource and serve to be an additional source of useful energy.

A recent publication that appears in Joule showcases how a techno-economic model developed by researchers predicts the economic viability of different waste-heat conversion technologies. The model will steer future research by guiding scientists toward novel designs and technologies that are more likely to enable efficient and cost-effective waste heat conversion.

In fact, most of the research focused on waste heat conversion technologies so far involve waste heat conversion engines such as thermoelectric generators that collect discharged heat in internal combustion engines. The techno-economic model of Berkeley lab enables researchers to have an increased system wide approach. The model centers on technological requirements for practical use commercially such as cost of heat exchangers, temperature of the heat source, or minimum capacity factor collectively for the miniscule period of time waste heat source is available.

While more than 60 percent of waste heat that is available in below 100 degree Celsius, the waste conversion is economical only above 150 degree Celsius according to analysis. The finding is very important to prioritize R&D for heat engines for waste heat conversion.

Meanwhile, the techno-economic model of the study enables researchers to better estimate the sectors and situations that will be ideally suitable for waste to heat conversion technologies.