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Researchers hail new thermoelectric material for power and efficiency

A new thermoelectric material developed by researchers at the University of Houston that can generate electric power from the waste heat from a vehicle exhaust or a factory’s smokestack shows greater efficiency and output than existing materials.

The finding is reported in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thermoelectric materials generate an electrical current from the flow of heat from a warm area to a colder one. The new material is made from germanium-doped magnesium stannide. The researchers argue that the usual focus for thermoelectric materials – their efficiency – is no more important than their high power output.

The researchers say that, as the power factor of the new material is high, and the raw material cost is about $190 per kilogram, it will be commercially viable and they have  formed a company called APower to commercialise it.

The material can be used with waste-heat applications and concentrated solar energy conversion at temperatures up to 300˚C, according to Zhifeng Ren, lead author professor of physics at the university.

Ren said applications would include use in a car exhaust system to convert heat into electricity to power the car’s electric system, boosting mileage, or in a cement plant, capturing waste heat from a smokestack to power the plant’s systems.

You can see previous Cosmos coverage of thermoelectric materials research here.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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