Kalex: A Better Way to Transfer Heat

If we could create 100 percent efficiencies in our machines, we could solve many of our energy woes — but damn those pesky laws of thermodynamics that are holding us back. Enter startup Kalex Systems, which is rethinking thermodynamics in the hopes of capturing some of the energy we lose to heat in nearly everything we do (hat tip Jeff Nolan).

The company’s technology is based on the Kalina cycle, a thermodynamic cycle that converts heat energy into mechanical energy by way of “working fluids,” usually a mix of water and ammonia. This mix of fluids is key as it allows the fluids to boil across a range of temperatures. If you adjust the ratio of the liquids the optimal boiling temperatures can be changed, allowing for a variety of applications. By contrast, water is limited by its boiling and condensation temperatures and can’t as efficiently capture heat across a wide temperature range.

Kalex’s systems can run in a huge range of temperatures — from below 380 degrees F to 1100 degrees F, they say. On the low end of the spectrum, Kalex sees the growing market of low-temp geothermal as a perfect application. Currently, Rankine cycle technology is most often used to tap energy in cooler rocks, but Kalex says its technology can operate at a staggering 60 percent efficiency.

Kalex’s technology can theoretically be applied to nearly any situation where heat is exchanged. On their web site, Kalex lists waste heat, solar thermal, biomass, municipal waste combustion, and coal fired power.

Nolan reports that Kalex is already working on a system in a Chinese concrete factory to capture waste heat and feed it back into plant as electricity. Founded by the eponymous Alexander Kalina, the company is not the first to try to tap into the “waste heat” and “low heat” markets. Hybrid makers have been trying to use nanotech thermoelectrics to convert heat directly into electricity. Meanwhile Raser Technologies has inked a $44 million deal with Merrill Lynch for low-temp geothermal power plants.

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