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Power Science Technology

Heat Engines Shrunk By Seven Orders of Magnitude 168

Posted by kdawson
from the gimme-a-v8-of-those dept.
KentuckyFC writes "The vast majority of motors that power our planes, trains, and automobiles are heat engines. They rely on the rapid expansion of gas as it heats up to generate movement. But attempts to shrink them by any significant amount have mostly ended in failure. Today, the smallest heat engines have a volume of some 10^7 cubic micrometers. Now group of Dutch engineers has built a heat engine that is seven orders of magnitude smaller than this. The engine consists of a piezoelectric bar that expands and contracts in the normal piezoelectric way. However it also heats up and cools at the same time causing a thermal expansion and contraction, which lags the piezoelectric displacement. By carefully choosing the frequency of the driving AC current, the Dutch team found a resonant effect in which the thermal expansion and contraction amplifies the mechanical motion, making it a true heat engine. Operating the thermodynamic cycle in reverse turns the device into a heat pump or refrigerator. The total volume of the device is just 0.5 cubic micrometres."
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Heat Engines Shrunk By Seven Orders of Magnitude

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  • On Chip cooling? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:34AM (#30859858) Journal

    Operating the thermodynamic cycle in reverse turns the device into a heat pump or refrigerator. The total volume of the device is just 0.5 cubic micrometres.

    Great! When can I get these built into my CPUs?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:38AM (#30859904)

    It's not like a heat pump turns heat into nothing. One side of a heat pump gets cold, the other side gets hot. At half a micron across, it's hard to see how such a device could help evacuate heat from a CPU.

  • by Dilligent (1616247) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:42AM (#30859952) Homepage
    Somehow "heat engine" directly translates into "internal combustion engine" for me. But this piece uses electricity, exactly how useful is that? This is bound to be less efficient than to use the electricity to just power an ordinary electric motor. I suppose scaling a motor down to that size might be kinda difficult, though, if that was the point, why emphasize that it is a heat engine?
  • Re:Reeedeeeculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ThreeGigs (239452) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:20PM (#30860442)

    And I despair of the lack of English education, specifically reading comprehension.

    This isn't internal combustion, which is what your argument is based on. It uses the fact that solids expand and contract when heated and cooled, including some piezo materials.

    Please read the summary *again*.

  • Re:Reeedeeeculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunking2 (521698) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:21PM (#30860446)
    It's almost as pathetic as the idiots who assume heat engine == combustion engine.
  • by Phizzle (1109923) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:26PM (#30860528) Homepage
    So thats like much smaller than a womp rat!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:27PM (#30860546)

    "heat sync" ?! Does anyone actually understand what they talk about these days, or do words just get conflated in the cloud?

  • Re:Reeedeeeculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SoVeryTired (967875) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:33PM (#30860606)

    It's the basic SCALING LAW that Galilleo figured out like 600 years ago.

    As you make things smaller, their volume, which is their abilitry to burn fuel, goes down as the CUBE of its linear dimension.

    But its surface area, which is how it loses heat, only goes down as the square.

    That'd be Newton's law of cooling, no more than 300 years old.

  • Re:Usefulness? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:49PM (#30860778) Journal
    As an engineer that works with heat engines. I don't see what is so difficult about making a small heat engine. However, if one were to make a heat engine seven orders of magnitude smaller, with the same efficiency of a full sized heat engine... THAT would be an accomplishment!

    Unfortunately, both the article and the summary have left out that detail...
  • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:56PM (#30860872)
    It always amuses me when people try to raise performance as a point against a first generation lab prototype vs. a tenth generation refined technology in production. The question is not whether these piezoelectric heat engines/pumps are more efficient than peltiers now, but rather can they be more efficient than peltiers in the future after further development, or is there a foreseeable upper limit to the technology that makes such an application unlikely even with development?

    There *is* a need for heat reduction at very small scales, especially in mobile devices or even the implant devices of the future. Of course heat has to go somewhere, the only issue is that the destination of the heat be better able to deal with it than the source.
  • Re:Reeedeeeculous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kgskgs (938843) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:58PM (#30860902) Journal

    What has happened to Slashdot? Who do you have to be a Guru in every subject to read Slashdot?

    Looks like gone are the days when all you needed to good discussions on Slashdot was genuine curiosity and decent , not necessarily perfect, grasp of English language. And no, being a know-all, done-all master of the universe was not required either.

    While I can perfectly understand saying "You are making a mistake" or "That's not what the article says", I have never really understood calling someone pathetic for not knowing something.

    The range of topics covered here is very wide and I don't know abc of several things discussed here. Does that make me stupid and pathetic?

  • Re:Reeedeeeculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AaxelB (1034884) on Friday January 22, 2010 @01:32PM (#30861336)

    The range of topics covered here is very wide and I don't know abc of several things discussed here. Does that make me stupid and pathetic?

    The key point is that you recognize that you don't know everything about the topic at hand. The post that sunking2 was responding to was essentially a spew of vitriol against the researchers, claiming that it's impossible to make such a small engine with any sort of efficiency, and that they're stupid and ignorant for even trying. According to that post's replies, the writer is completely wrong and doesn't know some basic facts about the subject they're yelling about.

    So, no, you're not at all stupid and pathetic for not knowing everything about everything, and I'm in the same boat with you (I've learned a fair amount from this story's discussion), but neither of us is telling everyone (including the Dutch engineers in question) that they're stupid and don't know what they're talking about.

  • Re:Reeedeeeculous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday January 22, 2010 @01:50PM (#30861524) Homepage

    Looks like gone are the days when all you needed to good discussions on Slashdot was genuine curiosity and decent , not necessarily perfect, grasp of English language. And no, being a know-all, done-all master of the universe was not required either.

    True but you were also expected to recognize that you were not a know-all done-all master... There was never a time on /. where someone who said "I'm right and all these fools have no idea what they're doing" wouldn't result in the poster being smacked down if they were wrong.

    While I can perfectly understand saying "You are making a mistake" or "That's not what the article says", I have never really understood calling someone pathetic for not knowing something.

    Not knowing something is not pathetic. Acting like you know when you don't, and calling the people who do know idiots, is pathetic and I have no issue with someone being called out on that.

    See, you're forgetting the other half of slashdot posting that has changed the OP. It used to be much more common to see a post that would say something like "I thought cube/square scaling laws implied that you can't have an efficient heat engine below a certain size because the heat would dissipate faster than you could generate it. How does this invention get around that?" or "I don't really get QM, so can some explain how it's possible something to be in two states at once, and why electrons are shown as 'clouds'? Doesn't the electron have to actually be somewhere?"

    Nowadays there's a lot more like the OP. "Oh my god, even Gallileo could have figured that these idiots invention couldn't possibly work!" or "Something can't be in two states simultaneously! So obviously QM is wrong and stupid. I can't believe there are so many idiots who blindly believe in that dogmatic bullshit!"

    There's still some of the former, and always were the later. But seriously, I don't think it's that Slashdot has changed when a post that starts off "Reeeeeedonculous!" attracts people ready to tear it down.

  • Re:Beer cans? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gsarnold (52800) <gsarnold AT gmail DOT com> on Friday January 22, 2010 @01:51PM (#30861542)
    No, no, no! You don't put the beer in the fridge, you put the fridge in the beer! Take that disk thingy Guinness uses in their cans to make it all foamy and add the refrigerator to that! Take it off the shelf, pop it open, wait two minutes and Voila! -- it's ice cold AND foamy! Brilliant!
  • by sammy baby (14909) on Friday January 22, 2010 @02:38PM (#30861944) Journal

    (Mazda had "rotary engines" back in the '70s; they were actually gasoline motors.)

    Sir, poorly played. You should never pass up the opportunity to use the word "Wankel [wikipedia.org]" in a sentence.

  • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Friday January 22, 2010 @03:59PM (#30862798)
    By taking that clause out of context, you're making it mean something else. In context of the paragraph it means reducing heat *in one place* vs. another. Once again, net heat increase may be both acceptable and necessary if the area of increased heat handles it better and enables the area of decreased heat to function where it otherwise would fail/degrade. I can see you're trying to be both clever and pedantic, but you're just failing to comprehend and I don't know what you think you're adding to this discussion.

What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying. -- Nikita Khruschev

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