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Center Innovation Fund: SSC CIF

High Power Density, Lightweight Thermoelectric Metamaterials for Energy Harvesting

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Thermoelectric energy harvesting utilizes materials that generate an electrical current when subjected to a temperature gradient, or simply, a hot and cold source of heat. The temperature gradient source is irrelevant resulting in an exceptionally diverse energy harvesting device. The efficiency of thermoelectric generators however, is lower than comparable alternative energy sources such as photovoltaics. Efforts to increase the efficiency have focused primarily on creating new materials through solid state chemistry. Some minor advances have been made; however, in order to meet the needs of NASA mission activities, the efficiency of thermoelectric generators needs to be increased substantially. Moreover, future power generation systems should exhibit a high power density (watts per area and watts per mass), reduced weight and become a transformational enabling technology that delivers affordable and abundant power. Consequently, this research proposal encompasses a method to substantially increase the thermoelectric power generation efficiency and power density while simultaneously decreasing the thermoelectric material weight. In conclusion, the primary goal of this proposal is to fabricate and test a lightweight thermoelectric metamaterial designed to exhibit high energy conversion efficiency and power density through engineered control over the thermal properties. Additional research goals include the advancement of theoretical understanding of thermoelectric metamaterials, development of computational capabilities for optimization and testing of an actual thermoelectric metamaterial module.

The objective of this project is to precisely control the flow of thermal, electrical and thermoelectrical energy by advancing the development of a new class of thermoelectric (TE) materials. The goals of this project are to (1) optimize metamaterial structure so power generation efficiency can be increased; (2) synthesize high power factor materials once deemed inappropriate for efficient thermoelectrical operation due to their large thermal conductivity; (3) assemble and test a thermoelectric module with an optimized TE metamaterial; and then finally, (4) characterize, on a micron scale, the thermal behavior of the metamaterial. Thermal behavior must be experimentally characterized, under a variety of operating conditions, using a research grade infrared (IR) camera. The results will enable validation studies with finite element models.

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