Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

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

Watching nanomaterials form in 4D: Novel technology allows researchers to see dynamic reactions as they happen at the nanoscale April 26th, 2018

Getting a better look at living cells April 25th, 2018

Graphene origami as a mechanically tunable plasmonic structure for infrared detection April 25th, 2018

Nuclear radiation detecting device could lead to new homeland security tool: New device can detect gamma rays and identify radioactive isotopes April 25th, 2018

Chip Technology

Getting electrons to move in a semiconductor: Gallium oxide shows high electron mobility, making it promising for better and cheaper devices April 24th, 2018

New qubit now works without breaks: A universal design for superconducting qubits has been created April 19th, 2018

Salt boosts creation of 2-D materials: Rice University scientists show how salt lowers reaction temperatures to make novel materials April 18th, 2018

When superconductivity disappears in the core of a quantum tube: By replacing the electrons with ultra-cold atoms, a group of physicists has created a perfectly clean material, unveiling new states of matter at the quantum level April 16th, 2018

Discoveries

Watching nanomaterials form in 4D: Novel technology allows researchers to see dynamic reactions as they happen at the nanoscale April 26th, 2018

The dispute about the origins of terahertz photoresponse in graphene results in a draw April 26th, 2018

Graphene origami as a mechanically tunable plasmonic structure for infrared detection April 25th, 2018

Nuclear radiation detecting device could lead to new homeland security tool: New device can detect gamma rays and identify radioactive isotopes April 25th, 2018

Announcements

The first PE blown films with nanotubes hit the Chinese market April 26th, 2018

Arbe Robotics Selects GLOBALFOUNDRIES for its High-Resolution Imaging Radar to Enable Safety for Autonomous Cars: Arbe Robotics’ proprietary chipset leverages GF’s 22FDX® technology to deliver industry’s first real-time 4D imaging radar for level 4 and 5 autonomous driving April 26th, 2018

Watching nanomaterials form in 4D: Novel technology allows researchers to see dynamic reactions as they happen at the nanoscale April 26th, 2018

The dispute about the origins of terahertz photoresponse in graphene results in a draw April 26th, 2018

Military

Watching nanomaterials form in 4D: Novel technology allows researchers to see dynamic reactions as they happen at the nanoscale April 26th, 2018

Graphene origami as a mechanically tunable plasmonic structure for infrared detection April 25th, 2018

Nuclear radiation detecting device could lead to new homeland security tool: New device can detect gamma rays and identify radioactive isotopes April 25th, 2018

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Energy

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Psst! A whispering gallery for light boosts solar cells April 14th, 2018

High efficiency solar power conversion allowed by a novel composite material: A composite thin film developed at INRS improves significantly solar cells' power conversion efficiency April 10th, 2018

Light 'relaxes' crystal to boost solar cell efficiency: Rice, Los Alamos discovery advances case for perovskite-based solar cells April 6th, 2018

Automotive/Transportation

Arbe Robotics Selects GLOBALFOUNDRIES for its High-Resolution Imaging Radar to Enable Safety for Autonomous Cars: Arbe Robotics’ proprietary chipset leverages GF’s 22FDX® technology to deliver industry’s first real-time 4D imaging radar for level 4 and 5 autonomous driving April 26th, 2018

HTA to Present European Strategy for Competitive Micro- and Nanotechnologies & Smart Systems: Special Event in Brussels on April 24 Gathers Research Institutes’ CEOs, European Commissioners and Key European Industrials April 17th, 2018

CAP-XX Develops Industry’s First 3 Volt Thin Prismatic Supercapacitors: Provides peak power support to 3V coin cell batteries and eliminates need for 2.7V LDO regulator for less expensive, smaller, more energy-efficient designs with extended battery life April 11th, 2018

Mapping battery materials with atomic precision: Berkeley Lab researchers map the atoms of battery materials and explored how composition affects structure March 8th, 2018

Quantum Dots/Rods

Individual quantum dots imaged in 3-D for first time February 28th, 2018

Moving nanoparticles using light and magnetic fields January 25th, 2018

Tweaking quantum dots powers-up double-pane solar windows: Engineered quantum dots could bring down the cost of solar electricity January 2nd, 2018

Quantum communications bend to our needs: By changing the wavelengths of entangled photons to those used in telecommunications, researchers see quantum technology take a major leap forward September 28th, 2017

Solar/Photovoltaic

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Salt boosts creation of 2-D materials: Rice University scientists show how salt lowers reaction temperatures to make novel materials April 18th, 2018

Psst! A whispering gallery for light boosts solar cells April 14th, 2018

High efficiency solar power conversion allowed by a novel composite material: A composite thin film developed at INRS improves significantly solar cells' power conversion efficiency April 10th, 2018

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



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project