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A new material promises to reduce the heat emitted by power plants

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Researchers at West Virginia University in the United States have discovered a new high-performance semiconductor material that will reduce heat emissions in conditions as extreme as those found in industrial environments or power plants. In this way, the environmental impact and the economic cost derived from dealing with that residual heat that is not always used would be reduced .

Specifically, this material would solve a long-standing problem that has to do with the energy efficiency of thermoelectric generators . By generating electricity from heat, some of this waste heat is emitted into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming . Why not take advantage of that residual heat?

The material is based on ceramic oxide and performs very well under typical heat conditions in power plants or industrial systems. And there is still room for improvement to obtain even greater efficiency by combining other elements with this new material.

Materials that can with the heat

The researchers responsible for the project are Cesar Octavio Romo de la Cruz, Sergio Andres Paredes Navia, Yun Chen, Liang Liang and Ellena Gemmen. The team was led by Xueyan Song, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University. And by George B. Berry, Professor of Engineering in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at Benjamin M. Statler College.

The lab-created material consists of ceramic oxide . From the family of other materials such as ceramics, porcelain, cement or silicon. But including metallic elements . Its characteristics, hardness and resistance to heat and corrosion . In short, ideal for tasks related to high temperatures such as the components of a thermoelectric generator .

However, if this material had not been used for this purpose before, it is because of one of its main pitfalls. Ceramic oxide has crystal structures that block the flow of electrons . This prevents its use on a large scale. The solution? Dealing with those crystals with metal ions , which facilitate conductivity and improve their thermoelectric performance.

Take advantage of waste heat, increase energy efficiency

To what extent is waste heat a problem? It is a consequence or by-product of most fuel-to-energy activities . All industrial sectors require this process to function. And, for obvious reasons, power plants generate electricity and they generate heat. A heat that is not always used and that contributes to climate change . We are talking about power plants, home heating systems or the cars themselves .

As explained by Romo de la Cruz, a member of the research team that has come up with this new, more efficient material, “around 60% of the energy produced is unproductively released into the environment in the form of heat. Waste heat recovery will play an increasingly important role in balancing the growing demand for electricity with the carbon footprint of industrial processes.”

Thermoelectric generators convert some of that waste heat into electricity . And best of all, they are easy to use and require little maintenance. If it is not implemented in the current industry, it is because it was not economically efficient . Something that will change with this new material. In this way, this residual heat can be captured and used to obtain energy and reduce its impact on the planet.

Great solutions manipulating atoms

One of the curiosities of this research that will make it possible to take advantage of the residual heat to generate electricity is the way in which the ceramic oxide has been obtained . For this, nanostructure engineering has been used . In other words, ceramics have been manipulated on an atomic scale, using electronic microscopes . In this way, it has been possible to overcome the obstacle that the ceramic crystals represented and to introduce the metallic ions in a strategic way.

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