Science & Environment

Power in MPs' 'hot air' weighed up

Commons in session
The study only considered the power in respiration which accounts for only 14% of heat loss

Students at the University of Leicester have calculated the power available from the "hot air" produced by MPs.

As part of a fourth-year project, students determined that 650 MPs produce more than 10kW of heat just through "prolonged speaking".

However, a separate study showed that MPs' breathy heat was insufficient for warming the Commons significantly.

The tongue-in-cheek project was designed to teach students how to prepare more weighty science articles.

"Discussions in the UK's House of Commons, particularly during Prime Minister's Questions, are well-known for fiery exchanges," Daniel Staab and co-authors wrote in the first study, Hot Air in the House of Commons.

"Given the lively nature of these debates, does the hot air exhaled by MPs constitute a significant heat source?"

The team determined that more than 2.5kW of power was contained just as heat in the air of their breath - providing they were all speaking continuously.

A further 7.8kW could be gained from the "latent heat" in the water vapour of MPs' breath - heat that is extracted as the water condenses again to a liquid.

'Off-the-wall'

In keeping with the methodical process of research science encouraged by the project, a follow-up study was carried out.

Emily Jane Watkinson and co-authors found that MPs' hot air cannot really be harnessed to save on energy bills.

In their paper Heat Loss in the House of Commons that in order to maintain a comfortable temperature of 20C, the heat would have to be turned on whenever the outside temperature dropped below 19.8C.

"A lot of the papers published in the journal [Physics Special Topics] are on subjects that are amusing, topical, or a bit off-the-wall," said course leader Mervyn Roy.

"Because Physics Special Topics is run exactly like a professional journal, the students get the chance to develop all the skills they will need when dealing with high-profile journals like Nature or Science later on in life."

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