Scientists find extraordinary new material that converts waste heat into energy

A team of scientists from Northwestern University and Seoul National University in Korea now has demonstrated how Purified Tin Selenide (SnSe), a material that has extraordinary high thermoelectric performance, can be used to convert heat to electricity.

Thermoelectricity is electrical energy generated through thermal energy or heat. The Thermoelectric Generator (TEG) or thermoelectric device converts heat flux or temperature differences directly into electrical energy. Heating one end of a thermoelectric material causes the electrons to move away from the hot end towards the cold end. This creates a potential difference or voltage across both ends, thereby, producing current.

 “Thermoelectric devices are in use, but only in niche applications,” said Northwestern’s Mercouri Kanatzidis, a chemist who specializes in the design of new materials. “These devices have not caught on like solar cells, and there are significant challenges to making good ones. We are focusing on developing a material that would be low cost and high performance and propel thermoelectric devices into the more widespread application.”

Potential areas of application for thermoelectric material include the automobile industry, where a significant amount of gasoline’s potential energy goes out of a vehicle’s tailpipe, heavy manufacturing industries, such as glass and brick making, refineries, coal, and gas-fired power plants, and place where large combustion energies operate continuously. The research was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea and a grant funded by the Korean government.




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