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MIT Physicists Announce Advances in Thermoelectric Material Efficiency

This entry was posted in TE materials and thermoelectric technology on July 03, 2018 by II-VI Marlow Industries

On May 25th, 2018 Science Advances published a report by MIT physicists Brian Skinner and Liang Fu on a ground-breaking theoretical method that could drastically increase the efficiency of thermoelectric energy.

“If everything works out to our wildest dreams, then suddenly, a lot of things that right now are too inefficient to do will become more efficient,” Skinner claimed in an interview with MIT News.

A material’s ability to generate energy from heat is dependent upon how its electrons behave when exposed to temperature changes. Few materials have been found to efficiently conduct thermoelectric energy. Skinner and Fu found inspiration in a study conducted at Princeton University on the impact of magnetic fields on tin selenide, a type of topological semimetal.

Topological semimetal materials have zero band gaps which allow electrons to jump more easily to higher energy bands when heated. However, scientists have found that when these negatively charged electrons jump, they simultaneously create particles with a positive charge that neutralize the heat energy created.

This new study explored the effect of a magnetic field on topological semimetals and found that more thermoelectric energy could be generated under an extremely high magnetic field of 35 tesla. Skinner and Fu’s team used this information to develop a theoretical model depicting the thermoelectric behavior of tin selenide when it is exposed to various temperatures and magnetic fields.

The high magnetic field required to generate efficient thermoelectric energy with topological semimetals can only be produced by a few facilities around the world. However, if scientists create the material with fewer impurities, it has the potential to work under a weaker magnetic field with a more practical application. In addition to using “cleaner” tin selenide, Skinner and Fu are looking into using alternative topological semimetal materials in future research.

II-VI Marlow continues to innovate its thermoelectric products in the aerospace, defense, medical, industrial, automotive, power generation and telecommunications industries by investing annually in research and development. The implications of this theoretical method are not yet known, but it has the potential to revolutionize thermoelectric technology.

Be sure to check out our Research & Development page for extensive information about how we continue to innovate our cutting-edge technology in this dynamic industry.


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