New Formula Speeds Up Development of Thermoelectric Materials


newformulaexIdentifying materials that have high potential for converting heat to electricity have just become much easier, as researchers from Houston University released a new formula.

It would be a dream-come-true if the material with incredible thermoelectric properties is discovered. After all, using the heat from the surroundings and turning it into electricity would be ideal, simply because every single object around us produces some amount of warmth, even us.

We have covered quite a number of scientific breakthrough inventions of new miracle materials and gadgets that promise to do just that, but none of them has made it to the market shelves just yet. A team of scientists from University of Houston, however, might have just found the explanation for this, and they even devised the solution. Here are the details.

For just over half a century, scientists and engineers have relied on the formula by the Russian physicist Abraham F. Ioffe, to determine the efficiency of thermoelectric materials. The formula was created back in the 1950s,  and it is based on a controversial assumption that the thermoelectric properties do not change, even if there is a variation in temperature within the material.  Although this sounds like a perfectly reasonable explanation to why many scientific teams have wasted a lot of time and efforts on materials, that have not performed as they should, Ioffe’s formula has been widely used and still is.

The team from Houston, however, decided to question all this, and took up the challenge to devise a new formula, which could speed up the search and development for thermoelectric materials that can actually have a practical use.

The new formula, introduced in great detail in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a quick mean for screening the material, and identifying whether the energy efficiency of any device, using the material, is sufficient for it to be worth perusing.

The formula includes a new measurement, referred by the team as ‘figure of merit’, and has an added engineering power factor. These take into account the change in temperature within the material, which has been misleading researchers for many decades. The formula was tested and verified with various devices that contain previously developed materials, and the results were exceptionally accurate.

The team is very proud with their invention, and they hope engineers and scientists around the world welcome it and start using it sooner.

Image (c) University Houston

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