Study to generate electricity from waste heat points to global energy solution
13 Sep 2013



A major milestone in the quest to find more efficient ways of generating electricity from waste heat, and to reduce carbon emissions, has real potential in a vast range of applications.

​Cutting energy consumption by converting the heat from exhausts into electricity

From reducing the energy consumption of cars by converting exhaust heat into electrical power, to cooling hot spots on computer chips and solid state refrigerators, even powering deep-space missions.

This important research, which was led by the University of London’s Royal Holloway, and included STFC’s Scientific Computing department, is reported in Nature Materials. This approach will pave the way for the design of a new, environmentally-friendly generation of thermoelectric materials, that is more effective than any currently in existence – and which can convert heat into electricity which can also be used for cooling.

As part of the project, the team conducted a series of experiments on thermoelectric sodium cobaltate at STFC’s ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source at its Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, as well as at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRFC) and the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, UK access to both of which is funded by STFC.

“The global target to reduce carbon emissions has brought thermoelectric materials research into centre stage,” said Professor Jon Goff from the Department of Physics at Royal Holloway. “If we can design better thermoelectric materials, we will be able to reduce the energy consumption of cars by converting waste heat in exhausts into electrical power, as well as cooling hot spots on computer chips using solid state refrigerators .The development of thermoelectric oxides offers an environmentally clean alternative to current materials that contain elements that are harmful, such as lead, bismuth or antimony, or are in limited supply, such as tellurium.”

Advanced computer calculations, which were central to the interpretation of the experiments, were performed by STFC's Scientific Computing Department. Dr Keith Refson, Computational Scientist at STFC, said:

"These supercomputer simulations, based on STFC’s world-leading expertise in this discipline, have given us a far deeper understanding of the findings from our cutting-edge experiments and are making it easier to realise environmental benefits from the future generation of electricity from waste heat."

View the full press release.

Jon Goff et al.

Research date: September 2013

Further Information

For more information please contact Wendy Ellison, STFC Press Officer, Tel: 01925 603232, Mob: 07919 548012

Notes to Editors

This research paper has been published in Nature Materials - "Suppression of thermal conductivity by rattling modes in thermoelectric sodium cobaltate" - D. J. Voneshen, et al, paper reference: doi:10.1038/nmat3739.


The Science and Technology Facilities Council is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security.

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