Monday, 13 October 2008

Renewable Energy: Turn Your Car’s Waste Heat Into Energy!

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Scientists Produce New Thermoelectric Substance That Can Increase Mileage By 5-10%

--- Picture: FUELING THE FUTURE? A research team has successfully produced a thermoelectric material that is more efficient at high temperatures than existing materials that can power vehicles ---

A Northwestern University-led research team has identified a promising new material that could efficiently convert waste heat into electricity to help power cars and improve gas mileage.

The researchers discovered that adding two metals, antimony and lead, to the well-known semiconductor lead-telluride, produces a thermoelectric material that is found to be more efficient at high temperatures than existing materials. “We cannot explain this 100%, but it gives us a new mechanism — and probably new science — to focus on as we try to raise the efficiency of thermoelectrics,” said Mercouri Kanatzidis, Charles and Emma Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Current thermoelectric technology is only used in niche markets, such as solid-state refrigeration and cooling, because the materials are not very efficient. With new materials and increased efficiency, devices based on thermoelectrics could find widespread use in the automotive industry, solar energy conversion and the conversion of waste heat from nuclear reactors, smokestacks and industrial equipment.

“It’s a big accomplishment to recover some of the heat or energy that would otherwise be lost and convert it into useful energy,” said Kanatzidis. “That’s what thermoelectrics can do, but we need to make them more efficient to really be practical,” he added.

A thermoelectric device, for example, could be attached to a car’s tailpipe. The side of the material in contact with the tailpipe would be the hot side, and the side exposed to the air would be the cold side. The temperature difference would be enough to generate electricity, which would be returned to the car’s engine for additional torque. Such devices also could be used in large industrial plants, such as those for power, chemical production and glass making. Researchers hope to raise mileage by 5 to 10% per gallon using thermoelectrics, which would be significant.

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