Inserting nanoparticles in the cooling fluid of thermoelectric power plants can significantly reduce the consumptive water use of conventional generation methods. Recent studies estimate that 3% of global and 40% of domestic freshwater consumption is the result of supplying steam for the large thermoelectric generators in the United States. As consumptive water use, effluent, and embedded water come under greater public and government scrutiny, finding ways to use water in power generation more efficiently will be important. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is currently developing engineered nanoparticles that can be added to water in a closed loop cooling cycle to increase heat transfer and reduce water loss through evaporation.
The particles EPRI is using consist of a central metallic nanoparticle core surrounded by a ceramic nanoshell. The core would undergo partial phase change, increasing the heat transfer capacity of the fluid. The entire cooling system would be closed-loop to prevent the release of the nanoparticles via steam into the atmosphere. The result is a cooling system that has a higher cooling capacity without increasing the size of the cooling system or the amount of embedded water in the cooling system. This application would benefit power plants operating in places where water consumption is an issue.
Additionally, work is being done to use similar technology in the transportation industry to reduce weight and increase the efficiency of freight vehicles. The fluids would play a similar role in the cooling systems of large freight vehicles, increasing the efficiency of freight transportation.
The potential benefits of this technology are reduced costs associated with the generation of electricity from thermoelectric processes. Additionally, the technology can be adapted to other products such as HVAC systems and engine coolants, improving efficiency in home heating and cooling as well as freight transfer and transportation.
While the nanomaterials used are unknown, there is a risk of releasing nanoparticles into the built and natural environment should the closed loop cooling system fail. Additionally, other risks may be present during the manufacture and disposal of the fluid.