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Nature Materials: Quick-cooking nanomaterials in microwave to make tomorrow's air conditioners
Date:1/10/2012

Troy, N.Y. Engineering researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new method for creating advanced nanomaterials that could lead to highly efficient refrigerators and cooling systems requiring no refrigerants and no moving parts. The key ingredients for this innovation are a dash of nanoscale sulfur and a normal, everyday microwave oven.

At the heart of these solid-state cooling systems are thermoelectric materials, which can convert electricity into a range of different temperaturesfrom hot to cold. Thermoelectric refrigerators employing these principles have been available for more than 20 years, but they are still small and highly inefficient. This is largely because the materials used in current thermoelectric cooling devices are expensive and difficult to make in large quantities, and do not have the necessary combination of thermal and electrical properties. A new study, published today in the journal Nature Materials, overcomes these challenges and opens the door to a new generation of high-performance, cost-effective solid state refrigeration and air conditioning.

Rensselaer Professor Ganpati Ramanath led the study, in collaboration with colleagues Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc and Richard W. Siegel.

See a video of Ramanath explaining the study at: http://youtu.be/hgmBwg3FeS4

Driving this research breakthrough is the idea of intentionally contaminating, or doping, nanostructured thermoelectric materials with barely-there amounts of sulfur. The doped materials are obtained by cooking the material and the dopant together for few minutes in a store-bought $40 microwave oven. The resulting powder is formed into pea-sized pellets by applying heat and pressure in a way that preserves the properties endowed by the nanostructuring and the doping. These pellets exhibit properties better than the hard-to-make thermoelectric materials currently available in
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Contact: Michael Mullaney
mullam@rpi.edu
518-276-6161
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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