Nanocrystal-Coated Fibers Might Reduce Wasted Energy

april 23 2012

Researchers are developing a technique that uses nanotechnology to harvest energy from hot pipes or engine components to potentially recover energy wasted in factories, power plants and cars.

Researchers have coated glass fibers with a new "thermoelectric" material they developed. When thermoelectric materials are heated on one side electrons flow to the cooler side, generating an electrical current.

The glass fibers are dipped in a solution containing nanocrystals of lead telluride and then exposed to heat in a process called annealing to fuse the crystals together. Such fibers could be wrapped around industrial pipes in factories and power plants, as well as on car engines and automotive exhaust systems, to recapture much of the wasted energy. The "energy harvesting" technology might dramatically reduce how much heat is lost, Wu said.

Findings were detailed in a research paper appearing last month in the journal Nano Letters. The paper was written by Daxin Liang, a former Purdue exchange student from Jilin University in China; Purdue graduate students Scott Finefrock and Haoran Yang; and Wu.

In addition to generating electricity when exposed to heat, the materials also can be operated in a reverse manner: Applying an electrical current causes it to absorb heat, representing a possible solid-state air-conditioning method. Such fibers might one day be woven into cooling garments or used in other cooling technologies.

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