Certain materials that exhibit a strong thermoelectric effect—the ability to directly and reversibly convert temperature differences to electrical voltage—can be used to cool electronic devices and to convert waste heat into electricity. Now researchers at the University of Delaware say they can make thermoelectric materials more efficient, which make it possible to use them in new applications. Joe Feser, the engineer who is leading the research group says:
The design of new materials that push the limits of achievable transport properties—i.e., thermal conductivity, interface conductance, heat capacity, and thermoelectric power factor—will enable the development of new device technologies based on these materials.
The researchers are developing tools to study the heat-carrying vibrations called phonons. They are studying phonon scattering so that the physical properties of nanoparticles can be optimized in order to push heat transfer to the highest possible limits. The new tool makes it possible to simulate phonon scattering with lower computing power, and it increases the maximum size of the systems that can be studied using computers. It can also be scaled up so that supercomputers can use it for complex simulations. The researchers described their new technique for studying phonon scattering in a paper that published in the Journal of Applied Physics.