SBIR Phase I: Pyroelectric Thermal Energy Harvester for Power Generation and Waste Heat Recovery

Period of Performance: 01/01/2013 - 12/31/2013


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Pyro-E LLC
205 W End Way
Albany, CA 94706
Principal Investigator, Firm POC


This Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) Phase I project focuses on the development of an efficient energy harvester for waste heat recovery. The device uses solid-state materials that can convert heat directly into electricity in a reversible interaction that is 10-times cheaper and more powerful than traditional devices. The target application is for small, but highly distributed, energy sources (<1 MW) such as mobile generators and automobiles. The incumbent technology, the thermoelectric module, uses expensive rare earth metals that lack the ability to scale. It remains cost prohibitive, with a payback period>5 years, given the challenges in heat conversion, extraction and removal. In contrast, the proposed concept is based on a closed thermodynamic cycle where waste thermal energy is harvested at scale without needing massive heat transfer components. Moreover, the power generating material itself can leverage existing means of volume manufacturing capable of scale. This yields an ROI of<2 years. The primary research objective is to demonstrate cost-effective energy conversion that can outperform existing thermal conversion methods. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is to provide a unique solution to boost the efficiency of small, distributed energy systems. Recently, advances in photovoltaics have led a paradigm shift towards direct energy conversion. This shift also points to the need for effective thermal-electric conversion where no solution currently exists for one of the largest and most accessible energy source in the country. That is, the US in 2010 released 56 percent of the total energy produced into the atmosphere in the form of waste heat and pollution. Yet, no viable solution exists given the engineering challenges in manufacturability and cost. By overcoming the above, the proposed technology will address the critical need for increasing the energy-use efficiency of 1) fuel cell and diesel generators; 2) gasoline automobile and hybrids; and 3) industrial furnaces and gas pipelines. The broad, long-term objective is to achieve cost-parity with turbines for power generation, 4-times longer life, and the equivalent savings on maintenance. This provides benefit to society in the form of cheaper energy, less reliance on fossil fuel, and improved environmental quality.