Recycling Waste Heat into Electricity for Spacecraft Systems

Heat created by electronics onboard the International Space Station (ISS) now gets thrown overboard into the void. But new technology developed by Rice University engineering students to turn heat into power would make it possible to put it back to work to run the various systems onboard. The students are using thermoelectric generators that transfer heat from cooling pipes like those used to radiate it into space. The generators serve several functions - they could perform their primary task of generating electricity while cooling the station and its components, or they could reverse the process and actually send hot coolant at the desired temperature back into the station. The prototype's generators are efficient enough now to power its onboard pumps, but the hope is the conversion rate from state-of-the-art generators - about 15 percent - would be enough to send excess electricity back to a spacecraft for other uses as well, according to the team.