A team of researchers at Michigan State University have developed a new type of thermoelectric material by using common materials found in dirt. The researchers developed this material using what they know about tetrahedrites, one of the most abundant minerals on Earth.
MSU Professor of Chemical Engineering, Donald Morelli, and his team figured out how to synthesize compounds that have the same chemical composition as natural minerals and closely mimic tetrahedrites. By modifying the composition, researchers have been able produce even more efficient thermoelectric material.
Why is this important? Themoelectric energy needs to be more efficient to be a viable energy source. For example, if thermoelectric was more efficient, the heat generated by a car engine that travels through the tail pipe could then be converted into actual electricity. By tweaking the composition, researchers are coming closer to making this a reality.
Newer, more efficient materials have been discovered recently, but they have been deemed unfit for large scale application either due to their toxicity, prohibitively complicated processing, or cost. Conversely, by grinding common materials from dirt into powder and using heat to compress them into usable sizes is incredibly efficient and inexpensive.
Hope is on the horizon. The research undertaken and discoveries made at Michigan State University may pave the way for additional cost effective thermoelectric opportunities that can be applied to industrial power plant waste heat recovery, using home-heating furnaces to generate electricity, or converting heat from vehicle exhaust into electricity.