BMW will use a radioactive heat-collector to save fuel

News | March 6th, 2009 by 7
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Latest news – Dr. Klaus Draeger, BMW’s Head of Development, announced today that BMW is working on a futuristic technology that will allow them to …

Latest news – Dr. Klaus Draeger, BMW’s Head of Development, announced today that BMW is working on a futuristic technology that will allow them to save more fuel and lower the carbon emissions. The technology is called “thermoelectric generator” and it’s in fact a radioactive heat-collector used to power space satellites.

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How does it work?

The radioactive material within the generator will produce electricity under higher temperatures. It is built around the car’s exhaust and it uses the heat dissipate by the exhaust in order to produce electricity.

What are the fuel savings?

BMW predicts a fuel saving of about five percent now, due to the energy generated by the engine and eliminated through the exhaust system. Five percent might not seem a lot to many people, but when compared to the three percent fuel savings achieved by the “hyped” EfficientDynamics technology, it sounds more appealing.

When will it be available?

Dr. Draeger expects the thermoelectric generator to be available in five years, this basically will be implemented in some models coming out sometimes in 2015.

On a different note, Autocar UK mentions the Project i as being under way, expected to hit the road around the same time as the radioactive heat-collector technology. They also confirm what we knew already, no design language or direction has been chosen yet, and the Project i final version is still up for debate.

Will it be the return to roots three-wheeled BMW or a regular smaller city car, along the same route as the MINI E.

[Source: Autocar UK]

7 responses to “BMW will use a radioactive heat-collector to save fuel”

  1. Gord says:

    I like how BMW are doing everything but going hybrid to reduce emissions.

  2. Matski says:

    @Gord: F01 7 series and X6 active hybrids will be unveiled this year in production form, so it’s on its way.

  3. Doug says:

    Any more information on what material this is?

    The normal device for this purpose would be a peltier junction, which isn’t radioactive. There was a theoretical device proposed a few years ago that could directly generate electricity from heat (as opposed to a heat differential), but nobody had any idea how to create one to test.

  4. Jon says:

    Doug, there’s no such thing as “heat” without a temperature differential.
    “In physics and thermodynamics, heat (symbolized by Q) is any transfer of energy from one body or system to another due to a difference in temperature”

  5. Horatiu, please read this and then edit :)

    There is no nuclear holocaust..

    • Horatiu B. says:


      “deep space probes often do use radioactive materials to generate electricity, being that they are too far away from the sun to use solar panels. They just use the heat generated by the decaying radioactive materials to drive a thermoelectric generator… the same sort of generator that BMW plans to use. But BMW will just use waste heat from the exhaust instead of heat from decaying radioactive material.”

      The truth is somewhere in the middle.. :)

  6. andy says:

    Dear Horatio,

    Your blog is interesting and correct in that thermoelectric and thermionic converters are used to generate electricity from a given heat source (providing that there is a useful temperature gradient) including waste heat from a radioactive source. However, it is unlikely, at the present time, that radioactive heat sources will enjoy widespread terrestrial use, partially because they are very very expensive, and partially because of health and security concerns. The generation of electricity using thermoelectrics and thermionics is a very active academic field with thermocouples being placed at about the bottom of the barrel in terms of efficiency. So the BMW device looks to be purely cosmetic rather than breakthrough ‘green’ science.

    with kind regards,


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