Scientist turns up heat on thermoelectric research

University of Southern Queensland researcher lands $1m for ARC Future Fellowship project

As the world continues to battle with the effects of climate change, one University of Southern Queensland researcher hopes to combat this burning issue with advanced waste-heat-to-power technology.

Materials scientist Associate Professor Min Hong has been awarded $1m in funding through the 2023 Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowships scheme to develop a new generation of high-performance thermoelectric energy harvesting technology.

Associate Professor Hong said thermoelectric materials offered a promising solution to reducing fossil fuel use and avoiding a worldwide energy crisis.

“One of the most significant aspects of thermoelectric technology is its ability to capture waste heat from industrial processes, power plants and other sources that would otherwise be lost,” he said.

“By converting this waste heat into electricity, thermoelectric systems can improve overall energy efficiency and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

“More than 60 per cent of global primary energy consumption is wasted. Therefore, there is a compelling need to develop new thermoelectric materials to recover waste heat.”

While thermoelectric technology has many advantages – zero emissions, no moving parts, accurate temperature control, long steady-state operation period, and the ability to operate in harsh circumstances – it’s not without its problems.

Thermoelectric materials are often expensive and brittle, while other challenges include conversion efficiency, heat exchange and thermal management.

The thermoelectric market is predicted to reach US$1,443M by 2030. Associate Professor Hong’s focus is to find ways to boost the performance of thermoelectric materials so the sustainable energy conversion technology can reach its full potential.

“Ever since I started my PhD in 2012, I have been driven by the curiosity of exploring the physical and chemical fundamentals on transport properties of charge carriers and phonons,” he said.

“The unique feature of direct conversion between heat and electricity has led to increasing applications in various industries, including energy harvesting and waste heat recovery, powering the portable and wearable devices, remote patient monitoring and implantable sensors, long-lasting power for space exploration and efficient solid-sate cooling.

“I aim to make the technology more functional, robust and affordable by establishing new strategies for enhancing thermoelectric properties, creating mass-production synthesis to reduce the materials cost and exploring computation methods to guide the device assembly.”

The ARC’s Future Fellowships scheme awards excellent mid-career researchers with funding support for four years to undertake high quality research in areas of national and international benefit.

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