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Recycling Heat? Are you Kidding?
In the wintertime, one of the most significant expenses is the cost of heating the air in homes, offices, factories, and enclosed spaces the world over. Ironically, most of the money that we spend literally does get burned -- and wasted. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the average power plant that burns coal loses almost 2/3 of the available energy in waste heat. Many times, this heat is vented out into a nearby body of water, which compounds the waste by harming a fragile ecosystem containing plants, fish, and other species.
So what can we do about it? In some parts of the world, power plants are designed to handle waste heat as another usable by-product -- not just something to get rid of. In Poland, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark, many districts get all of their heat from energy that, not too long ago, had just been sent out into the atmosphere. In Manhattan, there are steam pipes running under the streets that convey heat that would otherwise be wasted.
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So, How Do I Use a Heat Pump at Home?
There are heat pumps that will draw heat from the outside of your home and send it into your climate control system -- even when your house is already warmer than the air is outside. Fuel cells, solar panels, and even Stirling engines (that can use a temperature differential to make power) have been suggested for taking heat outside and converting it into home heating.
Every time you take a shower, or run a load of hot laundry, or wash dishes, you send hot water down your drain and out of your house. RenewABILITY Energy in Canada has come up with a Power-Pipe that takes the hot water headed through the drain and uses it to warm the water headed into your hot water heater (http://www.renewability.com)
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What Else is Out There?
Everywhere that heat gathers, there is an opportunity to recycle this powerful form of energy. The heat that soaks into pavement can even be extracted - the Ooms Avenhorn Holding BV is working on a way to set pipes under roads and transport the heat to buildings that are nearby. See http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/01/dutch_company_asphalt_heat.php for more information or read about the process of using asphalt as a solar panel.
Every source of heat has entrepreneurs digging around and looking for ways to sell it. The more heat we recycle, the more we do to keep our world habitable for our kids.