German scientists have found that enriched silicon nanoparticles can turn waste heat into electricity. The silicon semiconductors are even cheap to produce.
Creating power from heat can be quite an ordeal.
First, steam is converted into pressure. The pressure is then sent through turbines or piston systems. There, kinetic energy is created. And that in turn produces electric power with the help of generators.
But scientists from the University of Duisburg-Essen have found a short cut.
Gabi Schierning from the university's Center for Nanointegration has developed silicon semiconductors that can convert heat directly into power.
The silicon semiconductors work like solar cells - but instead of using the sun as an energy source, they use heat.
This is nothing new. However, existing methods are based on very rare and expensive materials or use the soft metal, lead, which is harmful to the environment. In some cases lead can be harmful for people, too.
Schierning says the energy yielded using existing methods has also been far too low for wider usage. So she pinned her hopes on nanotechnology.
"This can remarkably boost efficiency," she said.