back to article German boffins BREAK LAWS OF THERMODYNAMICS!

As you probably know, heat is one of the enemies of electronics, and heat management is a major design constraint of microelectronics. Now, a German research group has demonstrated using waste heat to get electricity. No, we’re not really talking about perpetual motion here. What the researchers have observed is that in …


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  1. Charles Manning

    Peltier/Seebeck too

    Sure you can use these differentials to generate small amounts of power but that is not always helpful.

    Anything that extracts energy surely causes resistance to the flow of heat. When you're trying to suck heat out of electronics then that thermal resistance is a Bad Thing since it slows down cooling. To compensate you need a better heat sink.

    That means you get a tiny amount of usable energy, but probably need bigger heat sinks. If your system has a fan then you'll need to run the fan more often too - probably using orders of magnitude more power than what you're getting.

    1. Geoff Johnson

      But the Peltier effect can be useful the other way around.

      I'd guess that this will act as a heat pump if given power. These kind of things usually work both ways.

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      @ Charles: That was my first thought too.

      Hardly a discovery, this effect has been used both ways for decades.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And this is different from a Peltier module how?

    And this is different from a Seebeck module how? Is it better at converting heat to electricity than your basic bismuth telluride module?

  3. Daniel Garcia 2

    Where is the law breaking part?

    I see 1 hot source, 1 cold sink and some POTENTIAL energy production.... unless the work done it is more efficient than the efficiency described by

    efficiency=1-(Temperature cold sink in Kelvin/Temperature hot source in Kelvin)

    Carnot can continue resting happily on the collective conscience imaginary afterword commonly called heaven.

    1. cloudgazer

      Actually I think that Carnot rests in heaven till he reaches equilibrium, then he is placed in contact with Hell until he's done some work, then he is returned to Heaven.

    2. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: Where is the law breaking part?

      From TFA:

      " No, we’re not /really/ talking about perpetual motion here. "

      Was this too subtle for most of you? Remember, when a Reg headline appears in ALL CAPS!!!, it's a good indication the headline is Not Entirely Serious....

      1. Daniel Garcia 2

        " No, we’re not /really/ talking about perpetual motion here. "

        perpetual motion requires an efficiency => 1 , you can "break" theoretically Carnot law for Heat Engines without breaking the Thermodynamic Law that disallows you to construct a perpetual motion machine...

        my comment points that the shown mechanism is (from a abstract point) a heat engine and, with the given information, no even a lower tier law that is specific for heat engines is broken...

        that does not count with the clumsy mismatch of dislike physical parameters, like Voltage and Energy, a type of misinformation only perceptible for people that already know about the subject and easily can confuse other people's understanding.

  4. BigFire

    That's still not breaking even in terms of Energy

    So where's the breaking part?

  5. Winkypop Silver badge


    No "Mr Fusion" then....

  6. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    By the same author?

    "Why is bad reporting bad for science? Because it encourages a simplistic and ignorant understanding of science among the general public."

    1. lambda_beta

      Bad reporting

      The problem is not so much the general public, but the reporters and editors who have no understanding about science. They report on buzz words not science, since they don't have to put any time or effort into writing the article.

    2. Hungry Sean

      headline is broken, not article

      Normally authors don't get to pick their headline, that gets left to the editors or sub editors.

      Hello editors, care to fix this up? There's lot's of better options that would at least be accurate like, "electronics powered by own waste heat"

  7. Andrew Moore

    I think you need to rename this article...

    ...Boffins Break El Reg's Understanding Of The Laws Of Thermodynamics.

  8. Some Beggar


    Are you pitching to be headhunted by the Daily Mail?

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    School Report

    Could do better

  10. Eddie Edwards

    So they've invented a HEAT ENGINE

    Quick, someone tell Carnot!

    1. Armando 123

      And he only understands French, so tell him loudly!

  11. theblackhand

    Looks like....

    ...I might have to go back to the BBC for my science news.

  12. Anonymous John

    It's a thermocouple!

  13. Steven Jones

    Puzzled by the headline...

    I have read this several times and I also fail to see where this breaks the second law of thermodynamics. If there's a temperature difference, and this can be exploited to produce electricity, then there is surely no contradiction. What would be a contradiction with the second law is if useful energy would be extracted from a device at a uniform temperature.

    Just calling something "waste heat" is not sufficient - that's just a qualitative term. A thermal power station's waste heat might be a horticulturist's useful source of energy for heating a glasshouse. The clever trick would be to extract any useful work once temperatures have been equalised with the environment. Then somebody can claim a miracle.

  14. JeffyPooh

    "...heated *unevenly*..."


    Ah, that's precisely the point where this news becomes non-news (with respect to the laws of thermodynamics, m. Carnot, etc.).

  15. Richard Pennington 1

    Not breaking the laws of thermodynamics

    I don't see a problem here with the laws of thermodynamics.

    The first law is basically conservation of energy, and I don't think anyone is claiming that energy is being created or destroyed.

    The second law DOES allow for (partial) conversion of heat to work (but you need somewhere cool to dump the rest of the heat) - otherwise the electricity generation system wouldn't work and your car wouldn't start.

    The third law is irrelevant in the present discussion.

  16. Annihilator
    Paris Hilton


    Wasn't there a CPU fan showcased a while ago that was powered by the heat of the CPU? Isn't this roughly the same application?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old news

    Are these the same guys that came up with Cold Fusion (Electrolisis)? It must be because this is OLD new as well. Thermal Induction eas rather easy to do at home, with some different types of wire, a candle and a volt meter.

  18. JeffyPooh

    Thermodynamics 101 in nine words...

    You can't win.

    You can't break-even.

    You can't quit.

  19. Dave 32

    Peltier Cell

    So, which manufacturer will be the first to integrate Peltier Cell junctions in their chips, in order to suck heat out of the chip and deposit it in a heat sink to be carried away? I'm referring to actually building the Peltier junctions IN the chips, not bolted onto the top as is currently the practice. After all, most Peltier junctions are semiconductors (Usually Bismuch Telluride, but why not Silicon?), and so are the chips themselves.


  20. Framitz

    Maybe not the power, but

    Seems this might be more useful as a form of feedback to further improve electromechanical precision in hard disk drives.

  21. Dave Bell

    May I recommend the following edutational video to the staff of The Register.

  22. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    Pfft. Amateurs.

    So let's install that little thing on all chips. Then feed the resulting current to a* Peltier module. There you go, perpetual cooling! Put your overclocking hats on, kids; ever wanted to know how fast your CPU can be if it runs at 0 Kelvin?


  23. Error Message Silver badge

    Poor efficiency

    The reason thermoelectric generators are not used except is very specialized applications is because even using best metamaterials known, for fundamental thermodynamical reasons, the efficiency is poor and always will be. Typically about 20% of what can be extracted using other (better) Carnot systems. Using magnetic tunnel junctions does not change this.

  24. sisk

    Breaking of laws??

    I see no break in the laws of thermodynamics here. Converting heat to electricity is neat, but hardly a break in thermodynamics. Unless, of course, the conversion is done with perfect efficiency, which doesn't sound like the case here.

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