Automobile Exhaust Recycling Could Help Fuel Your Car

06/14/2011 05:43 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2011

It's no surprise that the price at the pump might be making you think twice about a little summer getaway, but thanks to engineers at Oregon State University, we might be one step closer to cutting those costs by solving one of the largest problems in worldwide energy use -- what to do with the wasted energy that flows out of automobile exhaust pipes everyday.

A revolutionary technology, which aims to capture and use that waste (as well as the same waste from factories, and "electrical utilities") is being developed at the university's engineering department, with its promising prototype recently published in the Applied Thermal Engineering Journal.

In addition to providing improved energy efficiency to a broad spectrum of technology, the invention could potentially reduce costs for cars. So far, the system is able to use the majority of the waste heat in the production of new electricity as well as cooling.

Hailei Wang, a research associate with the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU, told ScienceDaily in an article about the prototype that "more than half" of the waste heat generated by industrial activities isn't used, and that the combustion engines of automobiles generally only run at a 25-40 percent conversion efficiency ratio.

He thinks the prototype could be the answer to the problem.

"This could become a very important new energy source and way to improve energy efficiency," Wang told the publication. "The prototype shows that these systems work as well as we expected they would."

Although similar products have been designed in the past, the OSU prototype has two advantages: its portability, and its ability to produce electricity through a "thermally activated cooling system." So far the new system can turn 80 percent of every kilowatt of waste heat into a kilowatt of cooling ability and about a 15-20 percent conversion efficiency ratio for producing electricity.

Wang also said that it could be possible for the system to be used in hybrid cars by using the waste heat from the gasoline to recharge the battery.

The engineers say that more tests are needed to perfect the system.