Materialism
An exploration of the past, present, and future of materials science and engineering.
a year ago

Episode 4: Turning Heat into Electricity

Will a surge in new thermoelectric materials research translate to major advances or not?

In this episode we talk about thermoelectrics which, as the name suggests, are materials that can convert heat into electricity or vice versa. Since their inception almost 200 years ago there have been major advances in thermoelectric efficiency and they have found their way into some amazing applications such as NASA’s deep space probes or the Mars rover Curiosity.

For the latter half of the 20th century, thermoelectric materials research was relatively stagnant with little improvement in materials. However, in the last two decades there has been a resurgence of interest in these materials and efficiencies have doubled. For this episode we talk about these recent advances with Paul Slusser who founded Power Practical, a company that commercialized a camping stove with a built-in thermoelectric generator. We describe some of the techniques that have been employed to create this efficiency gains and ask whether or not these materials are likely to make it out of the laboratory and into the market.

To learn even more about the stuff we talked about, check out some of the references we pulled from when making this episode: http://thermoelectrics.matsci.northwestern.edu/ https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/anie.200900598 https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2014/ee/c3ee43099e#!divAbstract https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/9789814317665_0016

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