Low-grade heat from sources below 100 ∘C offers a vast quantity of energy. The ability to extract this energy, however, is limited with existing technologies as they are not well-suited to harvest energy from sources with variable heat output or with a small temperature difference between the source and the environment. Here, we present a process for extracting energy from low-grade heat sources utilizing hydrophobic, nanoporous membranes that trap air within their pores when submerged in a liquid. By driving a thermo-osmotic vapour flux across the membrane from a hot reservoir to a pressurized cold reservoir, heat energy can be converted to mechanical work. We demonstrate operation of air-trapping membranes under hydraulic pressures up to 13 bar, show that power densities as high as 3.53 ± 0.29 W m−2 are achievable with a 60 ∘C heat source and a 20 ∘C heat sink, and estimate the efficiency of a full-scale system. The results demonstrate a promising process to harvest energy from low-temperature differences (<40 ∘C) and fluctuating heat sources.
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We acknowledge the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship DGE-1122492 awarded to A.P.S.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Straub, A., Yip, N., Lin, S. et al. Harvesting low-grade heat energy using thermo-osmotic vapour transport through nanoporous membranes. Nat Energy 1, 16090 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2016.90
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