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Advanced Manufacturing

Optimizing Production of Thermoelectric Materials to Boost Energy Efficiency and Reliability

Company Name: ThermoAura, Inc.
Program Office: Advanced Manufacturing
Location: Colonie, NY
Website: www.thermoaura.com
Email: Rutvik J. Mehta, Ph.D., President; rutvikjm@thermoaurainc.com
Award Amount: $80,000
Project Term: Agreement Negotiation
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Argonne National Laboratory

CRITICAL NEED

Thermoelectric materials can make many processes more energy efficient by converting waste heat into useful electricity, or by acting as refrigeration systems. They can also improve reliability of energy generation and refrigeration equipment, because they use no moving parts and have very little degradation over time. And because they are much smaller than traditional systems, they can be used in places where traditional technologies won't work; for example, they could convert the heat in car exhaust to electricity, thereby improving the efficiency of the engine.

Currently, thermoelectrics are not efficient enough to use in mass-market applications that involve turning waste heat into electricity and refrigeration. One reason for this is the large discrepancy between the efficiency of devices produced at lab scale and those using a commercializable process. This could be due to a number of reasons, including impurities or defects in the material and differences in structural ordering.

This SBV Pilot will allow ThermoAura to work with Argonne National Laboratory to understand the differences between materials produced at small scale and those produced by the commercial-scale process. Understanding these differences will make it possible to change processing conditions to achieve improved performance. For instance, a particular impurity that is reducing device performance might be eliminated through process redesign. If these problems are eliminated, higher efficiencies can be achieved, and thermoelectrics could be much more widely used.

PROJECT INNOVATION + ADVANTAGES

ThermoAura is able to produce tons of thermoelectric materials that cost less than half to make and are more efficient compared to current market offerings. ThermoAura's unique microwave wet-chemistry process is much faster than industry-standard crystal growth processes, which are slow and expensive.

Boosting the efficiency of materials produced with this process even further will enable new applications for thermoelectric materials, and make them more competitive with traditional technologies.

POTENTIAL IMPACT

If successful, this SBV Pilot will result in thermoelectric materials that outperform current thermoelectrics at substantially reduced cost.

These improvements would allow these materials to move from being used in niche applications — such as space travel and portable cooling units — to being widely deployed as commonplace replacements for standard refrigerators and generators, and to make processes more energy efficient by using waste heat to generate electricity.

For consumers and businesses, changing refrigeration and generation systems from complex machines that require multiple moving parts to simple solid-state devices can reduce maintenance costs and improve reliability of this equipment.

In addition, wider use of thermoelectric materials can reduce fossil fuel usage and cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.


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