Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors


Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


DHgate

Home > Press > MIT: Thermoelectric materials are 1 key to energy savings

Photo / Donna Coveney
Professor Mildred Dresselhaus, in the spectroscopy lab at MIT.
Photo / Donna Coveney
Professor Mildred Dresselhaus, in the spectroscopy lab at MIT.

Abstract:
Researchers jumpstart old field with new approach

MIT: Thermoelectric materials are 1 key to energy savings

Cambridge, MA | Posted on November 20th, 2007

Breathing new life into an old idea, MIT Institute Professor Mildred S. Dresselhaus and co-workers are developing innovative materials for controlling temperatures that could lead to substantial energy savings by allowing more efficient car engines, photovoltaic cells and electronic devices.

Novel thermoelectric materials have already resulted in a new consumer product: a simple, efficient way of cooling car seats in hot climates. The devices, similar to the more-familiar car seat heaters, provide comfort directly to the individual rather than cooling the entire car, saving on air conditioning and energy costs.

The research is based on the principle of thermoelectric cooling and heating, which was first discovered in the early 19th century and was advanced into some practical applications in the 1960s by MIT professor (and former president) Paul Gray, among others.

Dresselhaus and colleagues are now applying nanotechnology and other cutting-edge technologies to the field. She'll describe her work toward better thermoelectric materials in an invited talk on Monday, Nov. 26, at the annual meeting of the Materials Research Society in Boston.

Thermoelectric devices are based on the fact that when certain materials are heated, they generate a significant electrical voltage. Conversely, when a voltage is applied to them, they become hotter on one side, and colder on the other. The process works with a variety of materials, and especially well with semiconductors — the materials from which computer chips are made. But it always had one big drawback: it is very inefficient.

The fundamental problem in creating efficient thermoelectric materials is that they need to be very good at conducting electricity, but not heat. That way, one end of the apparatus can get hot while the other remains cold, instead of the material quickly equalizing the temperature. In most materials, electrical and thermal conductivity go hand in hand. So researchers had to find ways of modifying materials to separate the two properties.

The key to making it more practical, Dresselhaus explains, was in creating engineered semiconductor materials in which tiny patterns have been created to alter the materials' behavior. This might include embedding nanoscale particles or wires in a matrix of another material. These nanoscale structures — just a few billionths of a meter across — interfere with the flow of heat, while allowing electricity to flow freely. "Making a nanostructure allows you to independently control these qualities," Dresselhaus says.

She and her MIT collaborators started working on these developments in the 1990s, and soon drew interest from the US Navy because of the potential for making quieter submarines (power generation and air conditioning are some of the noisiest functions on existing subs). "From that research, we came up with a lot of new materials that nobody had looked into," Dresselhaus says.

After some early work conducted with Ted Harman of MIT Lincoln Labs, Harman, Dresselhaus, and her student Lyndon Hicks published an experimental paper on the new materials in the mid 1990s. "People saw that paper and the field started," she says. "Now there are conferences devoted to it."

Her work in finding new thermoelectric materials, including a collaboration with MIT professor of Mechanical Engineering Gang Chen, invigorated the field, and now there are real applications like seat coolers in cars. Last year, a small company in California sold a million of the units worldwide.

OTHER POTENTIAL APPLICATIONS

The same principle can be used to design cooling systems that could be built right into microchips, reducing or eliminating the need for separate cooling systems and improving their efficiency.

The technology could also be used in cars to make the engines themselves more efficient. In conventional cars, about 80 percent of the fuel's energy is wasted as heat. Thermoelectric systems could perhaps be used to generate electricity directly from this wasted heat. Because the amount of fuel used for transportation is such a huge part of the world's energy use, even a small percentage improvement in efficiency can have a great impact, Dresselhaus explains. "It's very practical," she says, "and the car companies are getting interested."

The same materials might also play a role in improving the efficiency of photovoltaic cells, harnessing some of the sun's heat as well as its light to make electricity. The key will be finding materials that have the right properties but are not too expensive to produce.

Dresselhaus and colleagues are continuing to probe the thermoelectric properties of a variety of semiconductor materials and nanostructures such as superlattices and quantum dots. Her research on thermoelectric materials is presently sponsored by NASA.

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Elizabeth Thomson

617-258-5402

Copyright © Massachusetts Institute of Technology

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Scientists illuminate a hidden regulator in gene transcription: New super-resolution technique visualizes important role of short-lived enzyme clusters May 27th, 2016

Doubling down on Schrödinger's cat May 27th, 2016

Harnessing solar and wind energy in one device could power the 'Internet of Things' May 26th, 2016

Thermal modification of wood and a complex study of its properties by magnetic resonance May 26th, 2016

Chip Technology

Gigantic ultrafast spin currents: Scientists from TU Wien (Vienna) are proposing a new method for creating extremely strong spin currents. They are essential for spintronics, a technology that could replace today's electronics May 25th, 2016

Diamonds closer to becoming ideal semiconductors: Researchers find new method for doping single crystals of diamond May 25th, 2016

Dartmouth team creates new method to control quantum systems May 24th, 2016

Attosecond physics: A switch for light-wave electronics May 24th, 2016

Discoveries

Simple attraction: Researchers control protein release from nanoparticles without encapsulation: U of T Engineering discovery stands to improve reliability and fabrication process for treatments to conditions such as spinal cord damage and stroke May 28th, 2016

Scientists illuminate a hidden regulator in gene transcription: New super-resolution technique visualizes important role of short-lived enzyme clusters May 27th, 2016

Doubling down on Schrödinger's cat May 27th, 2016

Finding a new formula for concrete: Researchers look to bones and shells as blueprints for stronger, more durable concrete May 26th, 2016

Announcements

Simple attraction: Researchers control protein release from nanoparticles without encapsulation: U of T Engineering discovery stands to improve reliability and fabrication process for treatments to conditions such as spinal cord damage and stroke May 28th, 2016

Scientists illuminate a hidden regulator in gene transcription: New super-resolution technique visualizes important role of short-lived enzyme clusters May 27th, 2016

Doubling down on Schrödinger's cat May 27th, 2016

Deep Space Industries and SFL selected to provide satellites for HawkEye 360’s Pathfinder mission: The privately-funded space-based global wireless signal monitoring system will be developed by Deep Space Industries and UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory May 26th, 2016

Military

Doubling down on Schrödinger's cat May 27th, 2016

Nanoscale Trojan horses treat inflammation May 24th, 2016

Programmable materials find strength in molecular repetition May 23rd, 2016

Rice de-icer gains anti-icing properties: Dual-function, graphene-based material good for aircraft, extreme environments May 23rd, 2016

Energy

Harnessing solar and wind energy in one device could power the 'Internet of Things' May 26th, 2016

Gigantic ultrafast spin currents: Scientists from TU Wien (Vienna) are proposing a new method for creating extremely strong spin currents. They are essential for spintronics, a technology that could replace today's electronics May 25th, 2016

Light can 'heal' defects in new solar cell materials: Defects in some new electronic materials can be removed by making ions move under illumination May 24th, 2016

Technique improves the efficacy of fuel cells: Research demonstrates a new phase transition from metal to ionic conductor May 18th, 2016

Automotive/Transportation

Technique improves the efficacy of fuel cells: Research demonstrates a new phase transition from metal to ionic conductor May 18th, 2016

A View Through Wood Shows Futuristic Applications: Transparent wood made at UMD could create new windows, cars and solar panels May 5th, 2016

Speedy ion conduction in solid electrolytes clears road for advanced energy devices May 5th, 2016

New spin Seebeck thermoelectric device with higher conversion efficiency created April 26th, 2016

Quantum Dots/Rods

Supercrystals with new architecture can enhance drug synthesis May 24th, 2016

ORNL demonstrates large-scale technique to produce quantum dots May 21st, 2016

First single-enzyme method to produce quantum dots revealed: Biological manufacturing process, pioneered by three Lehigh University engineers, produces equivalent quantum dots to those made chemically--but in a much greener, cheaper way May 9th, 2016

Superfast light source made from artificial atom April 28th, 2016

Solar/Photovoltaic

Harnessing solar and wind energy in one device could power the 'Internet of Things' May 26th, 2016

Light can 'heal' defects in new solar cell materials: Defects in some new electronic materials can be removed by making ions move under illumination May 24th, 2016

This 'nanocavity' may improve ultrathin solar panels, video cameras and more May 16th, 2016

New research shows how silver could be the key to gold-standard flexible gadgets: Silver nanowires are an ideal material for current and future flexible touch-screen technologies May 13th, 2016

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE




  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project







Car Brands
Buy website traffic