PORTLAND, Ore.—Today's state-of-the-art thermoelectrics are only about 5 percent efficient, but new research indicates that a class of material called skutterudites—plus a new technque for aligning their atoms—could improve thermoelectric efficiencies to as much as 20-percent, enough for commercialization.
Such high-efficiency thermoelectric converters on the exhaust pipe of an automobile, for instance, could convert enough heat into electricity to charge the batteries of a hybrid vehicle.
Sutterudites conduct electricity well, but conduct heat poorly. However, University of Michigan professor Ctirad Uher recently discovered that certain configurations of a barium alloy in the compound could drastically increase the materials' efficiency. The technique effectively lowers the thermal conductivity of skutterudites, thus drastically increasing their conversion efficiency. Uher performed the work with fellow professor Massoud Kaviany.
The researchers claim that automobile manufacturers could use their new material to harvest the heat from the exhaust pipe of an automobile to generate electricity. "That's a big source of heat that you paid for already," said Uher.
The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences and the University of Michigan's Center for Solar and Thermal Energy Conversion.
The conversion of energy between light and electricity (LEDs/solar cells) and between light and heat (light bulb/greenhouse) is complemented by thermoelectric conversion between electricity and heat.
This is wonderful innovation. This can be used in other electronics assembly. One field of interest will be LED lighting. It will increase the efficincy of light source and make its life longer with more uniform light source.
On one hands, this is a fantastic news. Energy harvesting is going to be, if not already, the next biggest research area in this decade. There will be more people benefit from the result.
On the other hands, more rare earth material is going to be used. I hope there is innovation in material science and nanotech that an alternative will be found in the near future.
The TEG devices or the TEC devices need to maintain a highest possible temp difference across its sides for maximum efficiency .This is highly complicated.If this new invention does not need this to be done then it will have a commercial win.
After the catalytic converter, how much heat can be "mined" from the vehicle exhaust before there are environmental or operational efficiency impacts? This technology could also harvest waste heat from furnaces while electronically ensuring that the temperature doesn't get too low which would increase chimney deposits and impair the necessary vertical convection draft.
For automotive applications, the researchers said the thermoelectric material would recover the heat before the exhaust enters the catalytic converter, which usually have temperature sensors inside. Of course, temperature would have to be monitored by the control electronics to make sure the thermoelectric do not cooled the catalytic converter below its optimal operating temperature.
Yes, I agree regarding LEDs. Today a lot of effort is being put into keeping solid-state lighting cool, since am LED's lifetime is drastically shorted by overheating. Using thermoelectrics could cool LED arrays and recycle the energy to lower your electricity bill too!
not only LEDs, we can think of myriad applications where efficient heat conversion into electricity can be used. Depending on how expensive the material will be, it can be alternative way to generate electricity.
Very interesting idea...one problem is obvious: you need to increase efficiency, the second is probably less obvious: how rare is this material?...we see now that some technologies based on rare materials can be expanded on a massive scale due to material shortages (and increased material costs)...Kris
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