Background

testThe science underlying thermoelectricity addresses fundamental issues in condensed matter physics such as electron-phonon coupling, tailoring of dispersion relations, nano-scale thermodynamics, hopping conduction, diffusive vs. ballistic transport, localization vs. diffusion and confinement of electrons and phonons. In the context of thermoelectricity, these phenomena take place, for example, in organic (polymers), carbon-based materials (graphene, carbon nanotubes, carbon nanofibres) and inorganic materials (oxides and semiconductor compounds and alloys).

The goal of nanoTHERM is to develop new materials to achieve a high Seebeck coefficient, high electrical conductivity and a low thermal conductivity. We will do this by making quantitative and qualitative advances, partly evolutionary, partly revolutionary, towards the realisation of thermoelectric materials and a proof of concept of their possible applications in low and high temperature thermoelectric devices.

testThe impact in international context of nanoTHERM is seen when considering that increasing scarcity of fossil fuels and climate changes which require a more intelligent approach in the generation of electrical energy. Thermoelectricity concerns the conversion of heat to electricity, and thermoelectric devices are attracting considerable attention as clean and renewable energy sources. An area of interest for thermoelectric material research is the generation of electrical current from "waste" heat sources. For example, up to 70 % of fuel energy is lost as heat during the combustion process of a car engine. Recapturing this waste heat would for instance reduce the load on the car's electrical components, such as air-conditioning, in turn reducing fuel demand.

The thermoelectric efficiency can be measured by means of the dimensionless thermoelectric figure-of-merit ZT, where T is the average temperature between the hot Th and the cold Tc source temperatures, and Z=(S2.σ)/κ, S being the Seebeck coefficient, and σ and κ the electric and thermal conductivities, respectively. The nanoTHERM project aims at identifing ways to improve these key parameters in order to achieve a superior figure of merit of thermoelectric materials and modules.

Impact in energy harvesting technology

testThermoelectric power generation (TEG) technology has a number of significant advantages and possibilities compared to most other energy conversion methods. The ability of converting heat to electricity opens a large number of scenarios for producing electricity at virtually no running cost in applications already producing heat. With the current focus on energy technologies, TEGs are expected to play a central role because they enable local electricity production where heat is available - vehicle engine, computer hard disk drive, toaster... - which saves external electricity production and losses during transport and transformation. The advantages of TEG technology will open a very large potential market within a broad range of energy conversion applications. Reaching the objectives of the project (ZT>2) will allow TEGs to compete directly with other energy harvesting source such as kinetic and low cost photovoltaic cells (a-Si, DSSC, o-SC) in term of price and efficiency.

Impact in energy harvesting technology

Thermoelectric power generation (TEG) technology has a number of significant advantages and possibilities compared to most other energy conversion methods. The ability of converting heat to electricity opens a large number of scenarios for producing electricity at virtually no running cost in applications already producing heat. With the current focus on energy technologies, TEGs are expected to play a central role because they enable local electricity production where heat is available - vehicle engine, computer hard disk drive, toaster... - which saves external electricity production and losses during transport and transformation. The advantages of TEG technology will open a very large potential market within a broad range of energy conversion applications. Reaching the objectives of the project (ZT>2) will allow TEGs to compete directly with other energy harvesting source such as kinetic and low cost photovoltaic cells (a-Si, DSSC, o-SC) in term of price and efficiency.