Power from heat? Mandi IITians lead way

Dipender Manta

Tribune News Service

Mandi, September 19

The Indian Institute of Technology Mandi researchers are developing thermoelectric materials that can efficiently convert heat into electricity.

According to researchers, about 70 per cent of energy in the world is wasted as heat. This heat is released into the environment, becoming one of the key players of global warming. The trapping and conversion of waste heat into electricity can serve the dual purpose of energy-self-sufficiency and environmental preservation.

The researchers said though solar power has received a lot of attention, other alternative sources are equally promising, even if less known. Generating power from heat, for example, is attractive as there is a lot of heat that is generated through human activities in industry, power plants, home appliances and automobiles. And most of this heat is lost.

A research team led by Dr Ajay Soni, Associate Professor (physics), School of Basic Sciences, IIT Mandi, is studying materials that can convert heat into electricity. The team has been prolific in its research on thermoelectric materials and many of its papers have been published in reputed peer-review international journals like Applied Physics Letters, Physical Review B, Journal of Alloys and Compounds, ACS Applied Energy Materials and RSC Journal of Materials Chemistry and Energy Environmental Sciences.

Dr Ajay Soni said, “There has been considerable interest in the recent years in the development of technologies that can dynamically harvest energy from the environment and convert it into electricity. Under such futuristic technologies sun, heat and mechanical energy can be considered as sustainable sources of energy.”

“Thermoelectric materials work on the principle of Seebeck effect, in which electricity is generated due to temperature differences across the junction of two materials. A typical thermoelectric material must have the trifecta properties of high thermoelectric power and electrical conductivity, low thermal conductivity with a capability of maintaining a temperature gradient. This combination of properties is hard to come by and a few semiconducting materials must be tweaked further for a good thermoelectric efficiency” he added.

“In the Western world, many automobile companies, including Volkswagen, Volvo, Ford and BMW are developing thermoelectric waste heat recovery systems that promise 3 per cent – 5 per cent improvement in fuel economy. Other potential applications for thermoelectric energy harvesting include powering consumer devices and electronics, aviation and even space applications”, he remarked.

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