Thermal Pulse Energy Harvesting

Technology #16032

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Professor Evelyn Wang
Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
Ian McKay
Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
Managed By
Christopher Noble
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Clean and Renewable Energy
Patent Protection

Thermal Pulse Energy Harvesting

US Patent Pending 2014-0298811
Thermal Pulse Energy Harvesting
Energy, August 2013, p. 632


This technology is applicable to thermal energy harvesting, waste heat recovery, and improving ZT for thermoelectric devices.

Problem Addressed

Thermal harvesting systems often consist of a heat sink and heat engine connected to a heat source.  In steady state operations, the overall temperature gradient provided by the heat source is split over the engine and heat sink so a portion of the temperature gradient is not available to the heat engine.  This technology uses pulses of heat, instead of a constant heat flux, to concentrate the temperature gradient over the heat engine and increase harvesting performance.


This technology takes advantage of transient heat transfer properties to maximize the temperature difference between the hot and cold sides of the engine.  Heat transfer is not instantaneous so heat applied to the hot side of the engine will heat up the hot side before the other side (the cold side) experiences a temperature increase.  Before the heat flux penetrates to the cold side, the temperature difference between the two sides of the engine is maximized.  When a constant heat flux is applied to the engine, the cold side eventually warms up, reducing the temperature difference across the engine and the engine's harvesting effectiveness.  Delivering heat to the engine in pulses maintains the high temperature difference across the engine since the heat flux is cut off before the cold side warms up.  Then, the engine cools down so the next pulse can recreate the high temperature difference.  The heat pulse can either come from a non-steady heat source or be created with a thermal switch.

Interrupting the heat flux to prevent the cold side from warming up can improve the heat harvesting efficiency and power.  In certain configurations, pulse heating can simultaneously increase power by 60% and increase efficiency by 15% over that of a constant heat flux at the same temperature.  With other configurations, pulse heating can increase the efficiency by more than 80% at a decreased power level.


  • Increased heat harvesting efficiency
  • Suitable for remote applications
  • Efficient energy harvesting from time-variant and constant heat sources