Cleantech’s next heat wave could come from Smarter Alloys – by Tyler Hamilton (Globe and Mail – April 18, 2018)

Tyler Hamilton works with cleantech companies from across Canada as an adviser with the non-profit MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.

When we burn fuel to power vehicles and machinery, drive industrial processes or generate electricity, most of the energy in this fuel is dumped into the atmosphere as heat.

In one 2016 study, German researchers estimated that 72 per cent of global primary energy consumption – that is, using coal, oil, natural gas and uranium as fuel – is lost as waste heat. Most of this heat is rated “low grade,” meaning it’s less than 100 C.

It includes the heat emitted from data centre server farms and the warm air that flows out the back of your kitchen refrigerator or air conditioner.

Recovering low-grade heat in an economical way, particularly to produce large amounts of power, is tremendously difficult, but a Waterloo-based venture called Smarter Alloys appears to have found a novel way forward. The company’s approach lies in a seemingly magical alloy called nickel-titanium, which also goes by the names Ni-Ti or “nitinol.”

Nitinol is a shape-memory alloy, meaning that if a piece of nitinol is bent it will return to its original shape when heat is applied. Scientists have been fascinated by this unique property for decades, and in the 1970s, aerospace company McDonnell Douglas (which eventually became part of Boeing) developed a prototype device that took advantage of this heat-triggered mechanical movement to produce limited amounts of power.

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