While Clemson University and the University of Virginia compete on the football field, researchers from these two institutions are working together to convert waste heat into high-quality electricity.
The researchers say that the conversion of waste heat into electrical energy will certainly play a role in today’s challenge for alternative energy technologies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and lessen greenhouse gas emissions.
Terry Tritt, Alumni Distinguished Professor in Clemson's physics and astronomy department, and Joe Poon, an endowed professor and chairman of Virginia’s physics department, are developing thermoelectric materials that provide direct conversion of heat into electricity.
“Over the past 10 to 15 years, there have been significant advances in the scientific understanding — as well as in the performance — of thermoelectric materials,” Tritt said. “Thermoelectric materials can be incorporated into power-generation devices that are designed to convert waste heat into useful electrical energy.”
Thermoelectric materials and devices are currently being used in automobiles, including the GM Suburban and the BMW X5. The installed devices are converting waste heat from the exhaust system into electricity for the automobile, recovering more than 60 percent of waste heat that is lost relative to the input energy.
The university researchers have investigated several materials, including half Heusler alloys and silicon-germanium (SiGe), to understand the effect of core shell thermoelectric materials under a Department of Energy grant with Lee Williams at Nanosonic Inc.
“We are paying particular attention to SiGe, a thermoelectric material used in many high -temperature applications like NASA's deep space probes,” said Tritt. “We are working to improve the material’s properties by using nanoparticles that have a specific chemical shell surrounding them.”
Moving forward with this research, the team hopes to find new sources of waste heat and develop thermoelectric devices to capture the large amount of the waste heat that the world produces. They’re also working on thermoelectric cooling materials that will provide zonal cooling for the automobile.