A material developed by a team of researchers at West Virginia University has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of heat that power plants release into the atmosphere. Led by Professor Xueyan Song, the team created an oxide ceramic material that solves a long-standing efficiency problem in thermoelectric generators, which can generate electricity from heat emissions from power plants, which contribute to global warming.

Four researchers gather together around a computer and other machinery in a WVU lab. Two of the researchers are male and the other two are female. The main researcher is seated at the desk controlling the experiment.
WVU researchers Sergio Andres Paredes Navia, Cesar Octavio Romo de la Cruz, Liang Liang and Ellena Gemmen use an electron microscope to study the nanostructure of a new oxide ceramic material with the potential to make thermoelectric generators efficient enough to capture a significant portion of the waste heat that industrial systems like power plants emit. (Submitted photo)

Song’s team converted that stumbling block into a stepping stone.

“We intentionally added ‘dopants,’ or metal ions, into the polycrystal ceramics, driving special kinds of dopants to segregate to the grain boundaries,” said postdoctoral researcher Romo de la Cruz. “That’s how we turned the unavoidable and detrimental grain boundaries into electricity-conducting pathways, significantly improving thermoelectric performance.”

The oxide ceramic produced by Song’s team achieved a record-high performance that had been deemed impossible, and the results open up new research directions that could further increase performance. The breakthrough could respond to the growing problem of waste heat, a contributor to climate change and a byproduct of most operations that convert fuel into power. Waste heat recovery will play an increasingly key role in balancing growing demand for electricity against the carbon footprint of industrial processes. Thermoelectric generators are a promising technology for waste heat recovery, and the breakthrough oxide ceramic material could capture a significant portion of a power plant's waste heat.

Read full article https://wvutoday.wvu.edu/stories/2023/03/14/wvu-lab-s-game-changing-high-performance-semiconductor-material-could-help-slash-heat-emissions