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Boston College, MIT researchers achieve dramatic increase in thermoelectric efficiency
Date:3/20/2008

CHESTNUT HILL/CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 20, 2008 - Researchers at Boston College and MIT have used nanotechnology to achieve a major increase in thermoelectric efficiency, a milestone that paves the way for a new generation of products from semiconductors and air conditioners to car exhaust systems and solar power technology that run cleaner.

The teams low-cost approach, details of which are published today in the online version of the journal Science, involves building tiny alloy nanostructures that can serve as micro-coolers and power generators. The researchers said that in addition to being inexpensive, their method will likely result in practical, near-term enhancements to make products consume less energy or capture energy that would otherwise be wasted.

The findings represent a key milestone in the quest to harness the thermoelectric effect, which has both enticed and frustrated scientists since its discovery in the early 19th century. The effect refers to certain materials that can convert heat into electricity and vice versa. But there has been a hitch in trying to exploit the effect: most materials that conduct electricity also conduct heat, so their temperature equalizes quickly. In order to improve efficiency, scientists have sought materials that will conduct electricity but not similarly conduct heat.

Using nanotechnology, the researchers at BC and MIT produced a big increase in the thermoelectric efficiency of bismuth antimony telluride a semiconductor alloy that has been commonly used in commercial devices since the 1950s in bulk form. Specifically, the team realized a 40 percent increase in the alloys figure of merit, a term scientists use to measure a materials relative performance. The achievement marks the first such gain in a half-century using the cost-effective material that functions at room temperatures and up to 250 degrees Celsius. The success using the relatively inexpensive and environmentally friendl
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Contact: Ed Hayward
ed.hayward@bc.edu
617-552-4826
Boston College
Source:Eurekalert  

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Boston College, MIT researchers achieve dramatic increase in thermoelectric efficiency
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