Northwestern researchers have created a new material by putting nanocrystals of rock salt (SrTe) into lead telluride (PbTe). The new semiconductor can more efficiently turn heat energy into electricity. If used to power something like a light bulb that produces heat, the system could essentially generate some of its own fuel source.
This study, led by professors Mercouri Kanatzidis and Vinayak Dravid, is the first to use nanostructures in lead telluride not only to increase the energy-conversion efficiency of the material, but also reduce electron scattering that has decreased conductivity of the material in the past.
Dravid hopes that this discovery will be used by other researchers who can find additional applications for it. As a professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, he doesn’t think the implications are limited to the energy crisis and environmental efforts, either. Vehicle exhaust systems are just one example where this new technology could be used. So many industries use vast amounts of heat to make their products that using the waste heat to produce electricity would generate immense savings.
Northwestern’s NewsCenter has more of the story on this study, which was published in the journal Nature Chemistry. Kanatzidis, the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg Collage, collaborated with multiple disciplines at Northwestern. Other authors of the study are also from Nanyang Technical University and the University of Michigan.