RESEARCH
July 28, 2008

Heat-to-electricity efficiency doubled

A new approach to improving thermoelectric materials -- metals or semiconductors that convert heat to electricity -- doubles the efficiency of a bulk thermoelectric material at temperatures typical of car engines.

Although advances in nanotechnology have improved thermoelectrics, nanotech materials are difficult to mass produce. A method that instead taps a subatomic interaction doubles the efficiency of commercial lead telluride thermoelectrics at 440 to 930 degrees Fahrenheit. The method involves doping, or suffusing lead telluride with thallium. The interactions of thallium electrons and tellurium electrons in the material make the material absorb more heat energy.

Thermoelectrics could be used to recover some of the energy lost as waste heat in internal combustion vehicles, factories and power plants.

Research paper:
Enhancement of Thermoelectric Efficiency in PbTe by Distortion of the Electronic Density of States
Science, July 25, 2008

Researchers' homepages:
Joseph P. Heremans
Thermoelectrics, Caltech
Energy and Enviromental Materials Laboratory, Osaka University

Related stories and briefs:
Better heat-to-electricity -- a nanotech thermoelectric material
Silicon nanowires get a charge from heat -- a nanotech thermoelectric material
Going nano boosts thermoelectrics -- a nanotech thermoelectric material
Material boosts thermoelectricity -- a nanostructured thermoelectric material


Back to ERN July 28/August 4, 2008

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