Tue 8 Jan 2008
One of the most surprising things about this new invention is that it was (in a roundabout way) inspired by the SuperSoaker. Lonnie Johnson, the man who made “squirt gun” synonymous with inadequacy, is currently working on a prototype heat engine which would use heat from the sun to force hydrogen ions through a molecular membrane from a lower-pressure hydrogen chamber to a high-pressure one. If that made total sense to you, then you clearly have a lot more engineering under your belt than I do! For a more detailed explanation try this page.
The engine will be more efficient as the difference in temperature between the heat source and the heat sink goes up, reaching 60% at about a 600-degree-to-room-temperature differential. Achieving such a temperature is no problem for parabolic mirror solar thermal collectors, which can easily reach 800 degrees.
Johnson is hoping that a variation of his heat engine could generate electricity from the heat of an internal combustion engine or even from human body heat! Sounds like The Matrix could come true!