Two thirds of the energy generated in the United States is currently lost as waste heat, representing a potentially vast source of green energy. Low Carnot efficiency is an inherent limitation of extracting energy from low-grade thermal sources (temperature gradients near or below 100C), and SMA heat engines could be useful for those applications where low weight and packaging are overriding considerations. Although many shape memory alloy (SMA) heat engines have been proposed to harvest this energy, and a few have been built and demonstrated in past decades, they have not been commercially successful. Some of the barriers to commercialization include their perceived low thermodynamic efficiency, high material cost, low material durability, complexities when using fluid baths, and the lack of robust constitutive models and design tools. Recent advances, however, in SMA longevity, reductions in materials costs (as production volumes have increased), and a better understanding of SMA behavior have stimulated new research on SMA heat engines. The Lightweight Thermal Energy Recovery System (LighTERS) is an ongoing ARPA-E funded collaboration between General Motors, HRL Laboratories, Dynalloy, Inc., and the University of Michigan. In the LighTERS engine (a refinement of the Dr. Johnson engine), a closed loop SMA spring element generates mechanical power by pulling itself between alternating hot and cold air regions. The first known thermo-mechanical model for this type of heat engine was developed in three stages. First, the constitutive and heat transfer relationships of an SMA spring form were characterized experimentally. Second, those relationships were used as inputs in a steady-state model of the heat engine, including both convective heat transfer and large-deformation mechanics. Finally, the model was validated successfully against measurements of a experimental heat engine built at HRL Labs.
- Aerospace Division
Thermo-Mechanical Modeling of a Shape Memory Alloy Heat Engine
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Churchill, CB, & Shaw, J. "Thermo-Mechanical Modeling of a Shape Memory Alloy Heat Engine." Proceedings of the ASME 2011 Conference on Smart Materials, Adaptive Structures and Intelligent Systems. ASME 2011 Conference on Smart Materials, Adaptive Structures and Intelligent Systems, Volume 1. Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. September 18–21, 2011. pp. 641-650. ASME. https://doi.org/10.1115/SMASIS2011-5165
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