Great news on the power efficiency front: Scientists have invented a new material that can efficiently convert heat waste in cars, power generators, and heat pumps into electricity. The new material is thermoelectric, and can turn heat into energy without any pollution.
The invention, thallium-doped lead telluride, is twice as efficient as the second most efficient material used in thermoelectric power. The lead telluride creates electric power like a conventional heat engine coupled to an electric generator, but uses electrons as the working fluid instead of water or gas. Additionally, it creates electricity directly.
Most importantly, the material is most effective between 450 and 950° Fahrenheit. This is a typical temperature range for many power systems, including car engines.
Many experts argue that up to 60 percent of a gasoline engine’s energy is lost through waste heat, so a thermoelectric device using lead telluride would be a welcome addition to any car. Such devices have no moving parts; this means that wear and tear is virtually non-existent.
Research project leader Joseph Heremans of Ohio State University is optimistic about the future of thermoelectric nanotechnology—he hopes to boost the efficiency rating of the new material by a factor of two. For now, though, we can be content with the incredible new technology created by Heremans and team.