Low-Cost Thermoelectric Materials on the Horizon

Nick Collins for Zondits, August 20, 2014

Alphabet Energy of California is developing the commercialization of tetrahedrite, a naturally occurring mineral, as a thermoelectric material.  Tetrahedrite costs significantly less than other thermoelectric materials, is more than twice as efficient as other thermoelectric materials, and is abundantly available.

Alphabet Energy’s primary interest in thermoelectric is the generation of electricity from waste heat.  Thermoelectric devices are able to generate electricity from a temperature delta, and can work in the reverse, generating heating or cooling from an electric source.

ERS has worked with a high-tech manufacturer to install thermoelectric chillers in place of vapor compression point-of-use chillers serving industrial fabrication tools.  Pre- and post-installation metering demonstrated improved temperature control and an 80% reduction in electrical energy use.


Thermoelectric Material to Hit Market Later This Year

MIT Technical Review, July 15, 2014

California-based Alphabet Energy plans to begin selling a new type of material that can turn heat into electricity. Unlike previous thermoelectrics, as such materials are known, it is abundant, cheap, and nontoxic.

Thermoelectric materials can turn a temperature difference into electricity by exploiting the flow of electrons from a warmer area to a cooler one. Thus, they can theoretically turn waste heat into a power source. But an efficient thermoelectric material has to conduct electricity well without conducting heat well, because otherwise the temperature across the material would soon equalize. Most materials that are good electrical conductors are also good thermal conductors, and the few materials researchers have been able to develop with good thermoelectric properties have been rare, expensive, or toxic. Alphabet Energy’s solution is tetrahedrite: an abundant, naturally occurring mineral that also happens to be more efficient on average than existing thermoelectric materials.

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