Saturday, April 19, 2014

Scientists find an 'ugly duckling' to convert waste heat to electricity -

Researchers looking for better ways to convert waste heat into electricity have stumbled across a simple material that is smashing records for making that conversion efficiently.

More than 90 percent of the energy produced to generate electricity, propel vehicles, or dry bricks requires a heat source, researchers say. Yet only 30 to 40 percent of the heat produced actually does the work. Most of the heat is wasted.This new material – a semiconductor made by blending tin and selenium – promises to convert heat to energy more efficiently than current technologies and with relatively accessible, inexpensive elements.
In principle, much of that heat could be recovered, using thermoelectric generators made from materials capable of turning a difference in temperature into electricity. 
Indeed, the "holy grail" in this field is to find materials that can act as efficient thermoelectric generators from room temperature up to perhaps 1,000 degrees F. or more – a span that would significantly broaden the range of sources from which they could draw heat.

Such a development could have as big an impact on energy use as another "holy grail" – the quest for materials that conduct electricity with no resistance at room temperatures, says Mercouri Kanatzidis, a solid-state chemist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and a lead member of the research team that is reporting the results in the current issue of the journal Nature. The nine-member team also included scientists from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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