New technology from researchers at the University of Houston has the potential to increase vehicle mileage by five percent and power plant and industrial processing performance by as much as 10 percent.
The breakthrough combines tin telluride and chemical element indium in a material that can capture waste heat and convert it into electricity. According to Zhifeng Ren, M.D. Anderson Chair professor of physics at the University of Houston, lead telluride has been studied previously for its strong thermoelectric properties, but was ultimately considered commercially unviable because of the health risks associated with lead.
Ren and his research team instead experimented with tin telluride, adding indium to boost the compound’s conducting properties. The resulting material, says Ren, could be used to capture heat from a car’s tailpipe and convert it to power the car’s electronics. It could also be used for the same purpose in power plants and other industrial plants, and in electronic devices. Their research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In a separate discovery, scientists from Royal Holloway, University of London have found a way to suppress the thermal conductivity in sodium cobaltate so that it can be used to harvest waste energy. The researchers believe their approach can be easily applied to other substances and will help guide the development of the next generation of thermoelectric materials.
“If we can design better thermoelectric materials, we will be able to reduce the energy consumption of cars by converting waste heat in exhausts into electrical power, as well as cooling hot spots on computer chips using solid state refrigerators,” said Professor Jon Goff from the Department of Physics at Royal Holloway.