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Apple in talks with startup over new power chip

A startup developing a new thermal energy conversion chip has reportedly caught the attention of PC manufacturers Dell and Apple Computer.

Speaking at a conference in London last week, Eneco chief executive Lew Brown delivered a sales pitch to potential investors about a new "solid state energy conversion/generation chip" under development that will convert heat directly into electricity, according to the Green Business News.

Alternatively the chip can refrigerate down to -200 degrees celsius when electricity is applied, Brown said.

The chip is reportedly based on the principles of thermionic energy conversion whereby the energy of a hot metal overcomes the electrostatic forces holding electrons to its surface, then passes those electrons across a vacuum to a cold metal and captures the resulting electronic charge.

According to the report, the primary obstacle that has thus far prevented the process from being exploited at a commercial level lies in creating the vacuum between the two metals. But Eneco in its marketing material claims to have overcome the issue by replacing the vacuum with "a properly selected semiconductor thermoelectric that is thick enough to support a significant temperature differential between the emitter and the collector in order to achieve efficiencies of practical interest".

The company claims its chip, which can operate at temperatures of up to 600 degrees Celsius, can convert heat energy into electricity at an efficiency of between 20 and 30 percent.

While Eneco initially plans to target the existing thermoelectric market, its next potential endeavor will be in portable power, where it hopes its chips will ultimately replace high end lithium ion and polymer batteries used in laptops and other handheld devices.

"The company says it is already in talks with both Dell and Apple about how the chips could be used in their devices," the Green Business News reported. "Initial talks have focused on integrating the heat conversion chips into the device so it can harness the heat generated by processors and turn it into electricity to power fans or other cooling technologies."

Ultimately, Brown said he sees Eneco's chips replacing heavy and bulky consumer electronics batteries altogether, but admits there's much work to be done to get the first demonstrative products build.

"For example, we're not there yet [with Dell and Apple] on where [the chip will] sit on the motherboard," he said. "Though it is so small it could also be incorporated as part of the processor."

Eneco says its striving to have its first products available by the end of next year or early 2008.