A team of scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz and the University of Erlangen–Nuremberg are developing a heat engine that would harbour only a single ion. The new engine, if successful, would be more efficient than the engine of a coal–fired power plant.
During the experiment, physicists theoretically exceeded the Carnot Limit by manipulating the heat baths and by exploiting non–equilibrium state of heat reservoirs that powers the engine. If the Carnot Limit exceeds, the engine can then be manipulated for an optimum efficiency. The calculations made a year ago showed that the thermo–dynamic flow in an internal combustion engine could be reproduced through individual ions, which can act as a piston or a shaft of the engine or can represent the entire engine. These individual ions can be captured on ion traps by using laser beams or electrical fields which can be cooled, heated and compressed.
As the mechanical capacity of a single ion machine is extremely low, it can only be used in heating or cooling nano systems. However, scientists are aiming at developing the proposed single ion heat engine prototype. Researchers in this case used a Calcium 40 ion, with a diameter which is a million times smaller than that of human hair.