January 12, 2009

Silicon nanoparticles promise more electricity from heat

Add nanoparticles to a mix of silicon and germanium and you can more than double the amount of electricity the material generates from heat.

A simulation of thermoelectric materials -- metals or semiconductors that convert heat to electricity -- shows that silicon germanium that contains silicon alloy nanoparticles is two and a half times more effective at converting heat to electricity at 625° Celsius than pure silicon germanium. The material's figure-of-merit -- its heat conversion efficiency -- is 1.7 at 625° Celsius, which is enough to generate useful amounts of electricity.

Silicon germanium is widely used in computer chips and electronics, and the proposed thermoelectric materials promises to be easy to incorporate into existing devices and manufacturing processes.

The material could be used to recover energy lost as waste heat in internal combustion engines, factories and power plants.

Research paper:
“Nanoparticle-in-Alloy” Approach to Efficient Thermoelectrics: Silicides in SiGe
Nano Letters, published online January 7, 2009

Researchers' homepages:
Natalio Mingo
Ali Shakouri

Related stories and briefs:
Heat-to-electricity efficiency doubled -- related research
Going nano boosts thermoelectrics -- related research

Back to ERN January 12/19, 2009



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