Researchers Combine Brainpower on Massive Thermoelectric Project

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

new breakthrough in thermoelectric research A sprawling international collaboration between scientists at government and university laboratories has resulted in a breakthrough discovery that could lead to more efficient ways of generating electricity from waste heat. The phenomenon, called the thermoelectric effect, can be applied to car exhaust, factory emissions, and other operations to capture the large amount of human-manufactured energy that is currently lost to the atmosphere.

The Trick to Thermoelectricity

A thermoelectric charge can occur when certain materials of different temperatures are adjacent to each other. It sounds simple enough, but the tricky part is to identify the most efficient materials, and to keep the difference in temperatures within an efficient range. Until recently, conventional research techniques enabled scientists to study materials based on their average atomic structure, but new nano-scale methods make it possible to study structural changes among individual atoms as materials heat and cool.

Heads Together for a Thermoelectric Breakthrough

The scientists pulled together from the federal Brookhaven, Argonne, and Los Alamos national laboratories and from Columbia University, Northwestern University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Using new modeling and experimental techniques, they were able to observe and verify a random “flipping” behavior, in which the atomic structure of certain materials rearranged to block the transfer of heat. This blocking phenomenon  is the key to thermoelectric efficiency, and the new finding will enable researchers to identify new, low cost materials to do the job.

Everyday Thermoelectricity

GM is working on new thermoelectric generators to capture waste heat from car exhaust, and at Virginia Tech, researchers are synthesizing new low-cost thermoelectric materials.  Aside from thermoelectric conversion, waste heat can also be recycled through more conventional means, for example by piping it through water tanks to create steam. Waste heat can also be vented directly to a point of use, as illustrated by the recycling of data center heat to warm an adjacent conservatory. It appears that the recycling of waste heat is on the verge of entering everyday life, and all together it could prove to be an important new energy source that enables us to reduce our use of high risk fossil fuels.

Image: Car exhaust by T.M.O.F. on flickr.com.


Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica TV Video


I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
 
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
 
Thank you!

Advertisement
 
CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3237 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey