Molecular  Thermoelectricity - Waste Heat Into Power

Using a theoretical model of a so-called molecular thermoelectric device, UA physicists have discovered a new way of harvesting waste heat and turning it into electrical power. Taking advantage of quantum effects, the technology holds great promise for making cars, power plants, factories and solar panels more efficient.

The research group led by Charles Stafford, associate professor of physics, published its findings in the September issue of the scientific journal, ACS Nano.

"Thermoelectricity makes it possible to cleanly convert heat directly into electrical energy in a device with no moving parts," said lead author Justin Bergfield, a doctoral candidate in the UA College of Optical Sciences.

"Our colleagues in the field tell us they are pretty confident that the devices we have designed on the computer can be built with the characteristics that we see in our simulations."

"We anticipate the thermoelectric voltage using our design to be about 100 times larger than what others have achieved in the lab," Stafford added.  

Polyphenyl ether SAM

A "forest" of molecules holds the promise of turning waste heat into electricity. UA physicists discovered that because of quantum effects, electron waves traveling along the backbone of each molecule interfere with each other, leading to the buildup of a voltage between the hot and cold electrodes (the golden structures on the bottom and top). (Rendering by Justin Bergfield)

In addition, more efficient thermoelectric materials would make ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, obsolete.

http://uanews.org/story/turning-waste-heat-power