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School of Physics and Astronomy

New approaches to thermal-to-electrical energy conversion

Research Group:Centre for Condensed Matter and Material Physics

Full-time Project: yes


Project Description:

Conventional thermal-to-electrical energy conversion technologies based on inorganic crystalline semiconductors cannot produce useful electrical power from the most common sources of waste heat because either the power conversion efficiency is very low at the temperature of the source, device fabrication is unfeasible or too expensive, or the rigid devices cannot be adapted to the non-planar geometry of the available space.

To develop new materials and methods of generating useful electrical power from these sources of waste heat: i) the 42% of solar power that cannot be converted by silicon solar cells but is lost as heat, ii) the 25% of industrial waste heat stored in fluids flowing in pipes at temperatures less than 250 °C, iii) heat dissipated by the human body at 37 °C, and iv) the heat dissipated by microelectronic devices (PCs, laptops, netbooks, etc.), which have components that operate at approximately 80 °C.

Individual projects will investigate the physical basis of the thermal-to-electrical energy conversion processes in materials by measurement and microscopy, and attempt to make and test prototype devices. The projects will consider conversion of constant flows of both conducted and radiated heat to electrical energy, and time-varying (fluctuating) transmission of heat. The most the most common flows of waste heat fluctuate and loose energy through both conduction and radiation so more than one approach to energy conversion may be needed so we will also need to consider hybrid devices which combine two or more approaches to thermal-to-electrical energy conversion.


The student will need to be familiar general condensed matter physics with the theories of thermal and electrical conduction in materials, be confident in the laboratory, and always willing to learn from the other physical science and engineering disciplines other than that in which they are formally qualified. Experience of simple chemical and electrochemical laboratory methods would also be useful.

A good first degree in Physics, Engineering or Materials Science

SPA Academics: Mark Baxendale