Energy Efficiency is Improved by Turning Waste Heat into Useful Work

While visiting The Future of Pneumatic booth at PACK EXPO Las Vegas I talked with one research student to learn about a novel way to save energy in an industrial settings by turning waste heat into useful work with a Stirling pressurizer.

In a recent study the U.S. Department of Energy said that the industrial sector in the U.S. accounts for about one third of all energy used in the U.S. — 32 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs).  Between 20 to 50 percent of energy consumed is lost via waste heat (5 to 13 quadrillion BTUs).Source: U.S. Department of Energy

A Vanderbilt engineering research student from the Center for Efficient and Compact Fluid Power demonstrated how industrial energy efficiency can be improved by reducing the energy consumption of the equipment used in manufacturing, by changing the process to manufacture products or by reusing the lost or “waste heat.”

According to the student, “This innovative technology can improve efficiency by 10 to 50 percent and save money by converting waste heat into work. It can be used at the pre-compression stage, feeding an industrial compressor, at the hydraulic pump stage, or as an electrical generator, all while reducing cooling requirements. The unit is completely silent and fully controlled for on-the-fly optimized efficiency or power.” In her demonstration the student explained that the waste heat is the heat source for the Stirling engine.  Helium would be used as the working fluid in the engine section for optimal heat transfer properties. Cooling fins would be used on the cold side of engine section and a directly controlled displacer piston would be used to shuttle working fluid from hot to cold side, inducing a pressure oscillation.

By independently driving the displacer piston, the shape of the thermodynamic cycle can be controlled in the face of arbitrary loads.  Pressure oscillation would in-turn be used to drive a power piston (electric generator, compressor, hydraulic pump, among others).

For additional information on the innovative use of turning waste heat into useful work please contact me at

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