From space power systems to ground-based applications for thermoelectric waste heat recovery

Major energy-saving and CO2 reducing solutions need to be developed and implemented within the next decade.

In the energy and transportation sectors, well over half of the energy is discharged as thermal losses to the atmosphere or to cooling systems. Wasted heat is equivalent to at least 2.5 billion barrels of oil per year in the European Union alone.

Potential applications of ThermoMag

One way to significantly improve save energy and reduce CO2 emissions is through scavenging waste heat using thermoelectric generators (TEGs), a technology used since the early '60s to provide onboard power for space missions.

Recent advances in understanding nanostructuring effects on thermoelectric (TE) properties and modern nanoscale manufacturing technologies enable the production of advanced TE materials with potential device conversion efficiencies above 5%. The advent of these nano-enabled TE materials will offer new opportunities to recover waste heat more efficiently and economically using highly reliable systems that have no moving parts and produce no noise or vibration. The need to research and develop improved TE material with its beneficial effects on reducing the carbon footprint of a wide range of industrial activities is self-evident, and supports the new EU SET-Plan for Low-Carbon Technologies announced in October 2009 [EC COM 519, 2009].

ThermoMag is a project co-funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission, coordinated by the European Space Agency. The ThermoMag team will deliver new, affordable, robust and transformational TE technology for industrial applications. ThermoMag will focus attention on thermoelectric materials and modules that are relatively inexpensive, widely available, non-toxic, lightweight, practicable in size, vibration-tolerant and scalable for industry. To meet these demanding requirements, it has been decided at the outset of this project to concentrate on 3D nanocrystalline Mg2Si-based TE materials.