Just a Little Spice Adds a Lot to the Mix

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Scientists have discovered a way to improve the energy conversion efficiency of a key green material by 25%. Thermoelectric materials can convert waste heat into electricity, but the low efficiency of existing thermoelectric materials limits their widespread use. Researchers found that by adding a little bit (just 1%) of the rare earths cerium or ytterbium to material made from silver, antimony, germanium and tellerium can make a huge difference. They made this discovery while studying the fundamental science behind the conversion of heat to electricity. Doping with rare earths could affect several possible mechanisms responsible for thermoelectric properties. Using solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance, researchers were able to eliminate so of the proposed mechanisms and gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that could lead to improved efficiency.


  1. E. M. Levin, B. A. Cook, J. L. Harringa, S. L. Bud'ko, R. Venkatasubramanian, K. Schmidt-Rohr. Analysis of Ce- and Yb-Doped TAGS-85 Materials with Enhanced Thermoelectric Figure of MeritAdvanced Functional Materials 21, (3) 441–7, (2011). DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201001307

Contact: E. M. Levin, levin@iastate.edu


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