Navigation Links
MIT: Thermoelectric materials are 1 key to energy savings

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. 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. Shell 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.


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 fuels 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 worlds energy use, even a small percentage improvement in efficiency can have a great impact, Dresselhaus explains. Its 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 suns 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.


Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Related biology technology :

1. Arrow International Files and Mails Definitive Proxy Materials
2. Advancements in Population Age and Technology Drive Future of Orthopedic Materials Market
3. DuPont and Plantic Technologies Announce Starch-Based Bio Materials Collaboration
4. National Stem Cell Holding Announces Patent Application for Newly Discovered Cellular Derived Biomaterials for Anti-Aging Applications
5. Novel gate dielectric materials: perfection is not enough
6. Biotechnology Needed to Help Meet Growing Global Needs for Food, Feed, Fuel and Materials, DuPont Chairman & CEO Says at World Food Prize
7. NanoMaterials Technology to Conduct Process Development Feasibility Study with US Based Emerging Pharmaceutical Company
8. Verenium Corporation to Present at the Upcoming Cowen and Company Clean Energy Conference
9. China Technology Announces Entry to the Solar Energy Sector
10. BioStorage Technologies Becomes Green Powered through the Use of 100% Certified Renewable Energy
11. NanoLogix Inc. Announces Historical First in Energy Generation With Bioreactor-Produced Hydrogen at Welchs
Post Your Comments:
(Date:6/24/2016)... NY (PRWEB) , ... June 24, 2016 , ... While ... machines such as the Cary 5000 and the 6000i models are higher end machines ... is the height of the spectrophotometer’s light beam from the bottom of the cuvette ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... UAS LifeSciences, one of ... their brand, UP4™ Probiotics, into Target stores nationwide. The company, which has been ... Target to its list of well-respected retailers. This list includes such fine stores ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... SILVER SPRING, Md. , June 23, 2016 ... evidence collected from the crime scene to track the criminal ... sick, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses ... Sound far-fetched? It,s not. ... whole genome sequencing to support investigations of foodborne illnesses. Put ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016  The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) ... precise treatments and faster cures for prostate cancer. Members of the Class of ... 15 countries. Read More About the Class of 2016 ... ... ...
Breaking Biology Technology:
(Date:6/21/2016)... 2016 NuData Security announced today that Randy ... principal product architect and that Jon Cunningham ... development. Both will report directly to Christopher ... reflect NuData,s strategic growth in its product and ... demand and customer focus values. ...
(Date:6/9/2016)... , June 9, 2016 ... Police deploy Teleste,s video security solution to ensure the safety ... France during the major tournament Teleste, ... communications systems and services, announced today that its video security ... to back up public safety across the country. ...
(Date:6/2/2016)... , June 2, 2016 Perimeter ... Platforms, Unmanned Systems, Physical Infrastructure, Support & Other Service  ... visiongain offers comprehensive analysis of the global ... market will generate revenues of $17.98 billion in 2016. ... DVTEL Inc, a leader in software and hardware technologies ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):