Waste heat is by necessity produced both by machines that do work and in other processes that use energy, for example in maintaining the heat of a room. The need for functioning systems to reject heat is fundamental to the laws of thermodynamics. Waste heat has lower utility (or in thermodynamics lexicon a lower exergy or higher entropy) than the original energy source. Sources of waste heat include all manner of human activities, natural systems, and all organisms. Rejection of unneeded cold (as from a heat pump) is also a form of waste heat (i.e. the medium has heat, but at a lower temperature than is considered warm).
Instead of being “wasted” by release into the ambient environment, sometimes waste heat (or cold) can be utilized by another process, or a portion of heat that would otherwise be wasted can be reused in the same process if make-up heat is added to the system (as with heat recovery ventilation in a building).
Thermal energy storage, which includes technologies both for short- and long-term retention of heat or cold, can create or improve the utility of waste heat (or cold). One example is waste heat from air conditioning machinery stored in a buffer tank to aid in night time heating. Another is seasonal thermal energy storage (STES) at a foundry in Sweden. The heat is stored in the bedrock surrounding a cluster of heat exchanger equipped boreholes, and is used for space heating in an adjacent factory as needed, even months later. An example of using STES to utilize natural waste heat is the Drake Landing Solar Community in Alberta, Canada, which, by using a cluster of boreholes in bedrock for interseasonal heat storage, obtains 97 percent of its year-round heat from solar thermal collectors on the garage roofs. Another STES application is storing winter cold underground, for summer air conditioning.
On a biological scale, all organisms reject waste heat as part of their metabolic processes, and will die if the ambient temperature is too high to allow this.
Anthropogenic waste heat is thought by some to contribute to the urban heat island effect. The biggest point sources of waste heat originate from machines (such as electrical generators or industrial processes, such as steel or glass production) and heat loss through building envelopes. The burning of transport fuels is a major contribution to waste heat.
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Famous quotes containing the words heat and/or waste:
“As in hoary winters night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;”
—Robert Southwell (1561?1595)
“Beside a stream, dont waste water; even in a forest, dont waste fire wood.”