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Improved Thermoelectric Materials and Devices

Ocean waves are different because they have an interface between the liquid and the air. The team found that because heat-carrying vibrations in a liquid can travel only via longitudinal waves, a material with liquid-like properties is less thermally conductive. Therefore, a liquid-like material that's also good at conducting electrically should be more thermoelectrically efficient than traditional amorphous materials, Snyder says.

In the case of the copper-selenium material that the researchers studied, the crystal structure of the selenium helps conduct electricity, while the free-flowing copper atoms behave like a liquid, damping down thermal conductivity. The efficiency of a thermoelectric material is quantified using a number called a "thermoelectric figure of merit.

NASA engineers first used this copper-selenium material roughly 40 years ago for spacecraft design, Snyder says. But its liquid-like properties—which were not understood at the time—made it difficult to work with.

Tyndall National Institute - Thermoelectric Materials

This new research, he says, has identified and explained why this copper-selenium material has such efficient thermoelectric properties, potentially opening up a whole new class of liquid-like thermoelectric materials for investigation. In addition to Snyder, the research group includes Caltech graduate student Tristan Day. Written by. Marcus Woo.

Research Topics

Caltech Media Relations. In this diagram, the blue spheres represent selenium atoms forming a crystal lattice. The orange regions in between the atoms represent the copper atoms that flow through the crystal structure like a liquid.


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Thus, it is the most stable form of refrigeration as it is invulnerable to leaks and can be designed to fit applications of various shapes and sizes. Compared with current refrigeration methods, thermoelectric refrigeration is much more economically efficient and environmentally friendly. Ultra-low temperature cooling, in particular, requires critical conditions and is costly due to the price of liquid Helium.

Thermoelectric devices and materials

Therefore, companies, universities, research institutes would benefit from thermoelectric refrigeration. About Us Jeff Snyder's Thermoelectrics group in Materials Science focuses on furthering the science and improving the technology of Thermoelectrics. The materials research focuses on fundamental science of Thermoelectrics with emphasis in Solid State Physics, Chemistry and Materials Science but we also develop expertise in Thermodynamics, high temperature measurement methods and materials processing.

On many projects, the thermoelectrics group works closely with the NASA JPL Thermoelectrics group in Pasadena CA which has specialized processing and testing capabilities for the development of thermoelectric materials into devices. With this institutional expertise spanning over 40 years, we team with many companies interested in commercializing thermoelectrics for power generation waste heat and novel Peltier cooling applications.

Welcome to the Northwestern Website Thermoelectrics.

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For the latest news and publications update your links to Thermoelectrics. Group News Thermoelectrics at Northwestern! Matthias Agne wins ITS Graudate Student Award For his work elucidating the thermodynamics of heat capacityand diffuson diffuse phonon thermal conductivity in complex materials.


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Riley Hanus wins ITS Graudate Student Award For his work developing the understanding of how microstructure dislocations and grain boundaries affects thermal transport by phonon scattering and strain softening. Stephen Kang wins ITS Student Award For his work on understanding the electronic transport using the generalized transport function, combining seebeck and conductivity experiments.

Latest Research and Reviews

Yinglu Tang wins ITS Goldsmid Award For her work on understanding the electronic structure and phase relations for optimizing Skutterdite thermoelectric materials. Thermoelectric Materials from Zintl Compounds The rich solid-state chemistry of Zintl phases enables a directed search and optimization of new complex thermoelectric materials including the new thermoelectric material Mg3Sb2, which is the first material to be competitive with State-of-the-art Bismuth Telluride Bi2Te3 based materials in 60 years.


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Charge Transport Model for Complex Conductors: Conducting Polymers, Correlated Electron Oxides and Grain Boundaries A two parameter mathematical model that can explain the experimentally observed relationship between thermopower Seebeck coefficient and electrical conductivity can identify the charge transport mechanism. Liquid-Like Thermoelectric Materials Because a liquid does not propagate shear vibrations the thermal conductivity can be less than that of a solid.

Band Structure Engineering Thermoelectrics Alloys of PbTe and Bi2Te3 have been used to generate electricity from heat on NASA space missions for 50 years and now are being considered for use on Earth for automotive waste heat recovery.