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Our bodies, buildings, and computers give off a lot of waste heat. Cities and scientists are learning to harness it for energy.

By District Energy posted 07-18-2023 07:20




Heat is energy, and we waste a lot of it every day. As our machines, buildings, and bodies burn fuel to function, they emit heat into the atmosphere.

Cities are throbbing with this thermal byproduct; they get up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the surrounding countryside, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The so-called urban-heat-island effect can aggravate health issues and lead to mechanical failures as the world gets hotter.

On top of the dangers, all that heat is unused energy. The EPA has estimated that more than 60% of energy in the US is lost as heat. By recovering those losses, businesses and governments could secure a reliable, local source of energy that doesn't require fossil fuels.

Projects in Europe and Canada are already capturing and using what's known as waste heat. In a Glasgow nightclub, sweaty partiers' body heat gets funneled to colder rooms. A London district is capturing heat from subway tunnels and channeling it to nearby homes. Pipes beneath a German road circulate fluid that absorbs the asphalt's heat in summer, which then warms and deices the road in winter.

Article includes stories on:

  • A Vancouver neighborhood recycles heat from the sewers
  • Data centers can heat homes too

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