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NanotechnologyinThermoelectricDevices

December3,2014

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NanotechnologyinThermoelectricDevices
ByWillSoutter

TopicsCovered
Introduction
WhatisThermoelectricity?
RoleofNanotechnologyinThermoelectricDevices
ApplicationsofThermoelectricity
RecentDevelopments
Conclusion
Sources

Introduction
Inthecurrentenvironmentalclimate,energyneedstobeconservedandrecycledasmuchas
possibletopreventwastageeveryjoulesavedmeanslessfossilfuelburnt.Harvestingwaste
energyhasbecomeapopulartargetforresearchersandscientists,whoarecomingupwith
innovativetechniquestoachievethis.Oneofthemostpromisingisnanotechnologybased
thermoelectricdevices,whichlooktobeapromisingapproachtosaveenergy.
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WhatisThermoelectricity?
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MembranesforProteinStudy

Thedirectconversionofheatintoelectricity,or
electricityintoheat,isknownas
thermoelectricity.Thisconversionprocessis
referredtoasthePeltierSeebeckeffect.This
effectisnameaftertwophysicistsJeanPeltier
andThomasSeebeck.Peltierdiscoverthat
currentsentintotwodifferentelectrical
conductorsthatareconnectedattwojunctions
willresultinheatingupofonejunctionwhile
theotherjunctioncoolsdown.Peltierwentonto
demonstratethatadropofwatercanbemade
tofreezeatabismuthantimony(BiSb)junction
byjustreversingthecurrent.Peltieralso
discoveredthatelectriccurrentcanbemadeto
flowwhenatemperaturedifferenceisplaced
acrossajunctionofdifferentconductors.

RoleofNanotechnologyin
ThermoelectricDevices
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ResearchersattheCenterof
NanotechnologyandMolecular
MaterialsatWakeForestUniversity
haveproducedapowergenerating
fabricusingthethermoelectriceffect.
Dubbed"PowerFelt",itusescarbon
nanotubestoenhancetheefficiencyof
thematerial.

Thermoelectricityisanextremelyinterestingsourceofelectricpowerbecauseofitsabilityto
convertheatflowdirectlyintoelectricity.Thermoelectricdevicesareenergyconvertersthat
areeasilyscalableandhavenomovingpartsorliquidfuels,makingthemapplicableinalmost
anysituationwherelargequantitiesofheattendtogotowaste,fromclothingtolarge
industrialfacilities.
Anumberofresearchgroupshavebeeninvestingtheireffortsinfindingtheperfectmaterial
withappropriatepropertiestocreateanefficientthermoelectriceffect,andnanomaterials
seemtofitthebill.Whilstthermoelectricmaterialshavebeenknownandunderstoodforquite
sometime,theyhavesofarnotbeenefficientenoughtousecommerically.Withtheadvent
ofnanotechnology,however,thatischanging.

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Nanostructuresusedinmaterialswillhelpmaintaingoodelectricalconductivityandreduce
thermalconductivity.Theperformanceofthermoelectricdevicescanthusbeenhancedwith
theuseofnanotechnologybasedmaterialsthathaveimprovedthermoelectricpropertiesand
goodsolarenergyabsorptionabilities.
Thermoelectricmaterialsbasedonbismuthtelluridestandoutasperfectexamples
highlightingtheroleofnanomaterialsforthermoelectricdevices.Bismuthtelluridematerials
arebestsuitedforroomtemperatureapplicationswithZT(figureofmerit)of~1.Theusage
ofnanostructuredmaterialsandlowdimensionalsuperlatticestructureshasleadto
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HyperthermiaStudies
ParticleSizeMeasurementofNanoparticles
forDrugDeliveryApplications
UsingMultiParametricSurfacePlasmon
ResonancefortheCharacterizationof
GrapheneOxideFilms

improvementsinZT.Theusageofnanostructuressmallerthanthewavelengthoflight
enhancesthescatteringofphotonsandthusdecreasesthermalconductivity.Thisdecreasein
thermalconductivityseemstobethemostvitalbenefitofnanostructuringforthermoelectric
materials.
Agoodthermoelectricmaterialwillthushave
verypoorthermalconductivity,butaverygood
electricalconductivity.Carbonnanotubesand
grapheneasthermoelectricmaterialsexhibit
improvedthermoelectricproperties.Further
applicationsofnanostructuringcanhelp
improvescalingandoptimizationof
thermoelectricdevicesthatcanbeusedto
decreasecarbondioxideemissionsandimprove
energyefficiency.

ApplicationsofThermoelectricity
Theapplicationsofthermoelectricityaregiven
below:

GangChen,professorofmechanical
engineeringatMIT,studieshow
nanotechnologymightexpandtherole
ofthermoelectricityinenergy
efficiency.

Powersuppliersandsensorsinbandaids
Burningoillampdrivingawirelessreceiver
forremotecommunications
PweringsmallelectronicdeviceslikeMP3players,digitalwatches,GPS/GSMchipsand
pulsemeterswithbodyheat
Rapidlycoolingseatsinluxurycars.
Harvestingwasteheatincarsbyconvertingitintoelectricity
Convertingwasteheatinfactoriesorindustrialfacilitiesintoadditionalpower
Solarthermoelectricscouldbemoreefficientthanphotovoltaicsforgeneratingelectricity,
particularlyinregionswithlessdirectsunlight.

RecentDevelopments
Researchershaverecentlyhighlightedtheneedtoreducethewastageofheatbystoringand
reusingtheenergy,harnessingtheheattoproduceelectricityandthereforerecyclingthe
energythatwouldbewasted.Tocarrythisout,researcherssuggesttheuseofthermoelectric
materials,whichdirectlyproduceelectricityfromatemperaturegradient.Theuseof
nanotechnologyindesigningthesematerialswillimprovetheperformanceofthesematerials
andalsoimproveenergyefficiency.
ExpertsfromCranfieldUniversityrecentlyconductedresearchonthevariousapplicationsof
nanomaterialsintheenvironmentandenergysectors.Theuseofthermoelectricandsolar
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absorbingmaterialsasenergygenerationtechnologiesisthemostresearchedtopiccurrently.
Aprofessorfromthisuniversityhighlightedtheuseofthesetwomaterialstoformonedevice
thatwillhavetheabilitytogeneratefromthethermoelectriceffect.
Oneoftheproposedusesoftheseefficient,nanotechnologyenhancedthermoelectricdevices
focusesonreducingtheloadofbatteriescarriedbysoldiersinthebattlefield.Thiswillhelp
increasingtherangeofthesoldiersandallowthemtocarrymoreammunitionandfoodand
stayawayfrombaseforlongertimeperiods.

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Conclusion
Withthedemandforenergyincreasinginallaspectsoflifefromofficestohouseholdsto
battlefields,theneedtoimplementnanotechnologybasedsolutionslikethermoelectricdevices
isgainingimportance.Implementationofnanotechbasedthermoelectricdeviceswillprevent
wastageofenergyandmakewayforbetterenergyrecyclingandenergysavingmeasures.

Sources
ReportonEnergyEUObservatoryNano
NanotechgivesthermoelectricityanewglowMITNews
HarvestingWasteEnergy:NanostructuredThermoelectricMaterialsAZoNano
PersonalEnergyGenerationwithThermoelectricMaterials:AnInterviewwithProf.Robert
DoreyAZoNano

DateAdded:Dec13,2012|Updated:Jun25,2014

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