Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Creating electricity with caged atoms

23.09.2013
At the Vienna University of Technology, a new class of thermoelectric materials has been discovered; Due to a surprising physical effect they can be used to create electricity more efficiently.

A lot of energy is wasted when machines turn hot, unnecessarily heating up their environment. Some of this thermal energy could be harvested using thermoelectric materials; they create electric current when they are used to bridge hot and cold objects. At the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna), a new and considerably more efficient class of thermoelectric materials can now be produced.


Clathrates: Tiny cages enclosing single atoms are shown. Credit: TU Vienna

It is the material's very special crystal structure that does the trick, in connection with an astonishing new physical effect; in countless tiny cages within the crystal, cerium atoms are enclosed. These trapped magnetic atoms are constantly rattling the bars of their cage, and this rattling seems to be responsible for the material's exceptionally favourable properties.

Cerium Cages from the Mirror Oven

"Clathrates" is the technical term for crystals, in which host atoms are enclosed in cage-like spaces. "These clathrates show remarkable thermal properties", says Professor Silke Bühler-Paschen (TU Vienna). The exact behaviour of the material depends on the interaction between the trapped atoms and the cage surrounding them. "We came up with the idea to trap cerium atoms, because their magnetic properties promised particularly interesting kinds of interaction", explains Bühler-Paschen.
For a long time, this task seemed impossible. All earlier attempts to incorporate magnetic atoms such as the rare-earth metal cerium into the clathrate structures failed. With the help of a sophisticated crystal growth technique in a mirror oven, Professor Andrey Prokofiev (TU Vienna) has now succeeded in creating clathrates made of barium, silicon and gold, encapsulating single cerium atoms.

Electricity from Temperature Differences

The thermoelectric properties of the novel material have been tested. Thermoelectrics work when they connect something hot with something cold: "The thermal motion of the electrons in the material depends on the temperature", explains Bühler-Paschen. "On the hot side, there is more thermal motion than on the cold side, so the electrons diffuse towards the colder region. Therefore, a voltage is created between the two sides of the thermoelectric material."

Experiments show that the cerium atoms increase the material's thermopower by 50%, so a much higher voltage can be obtained. Furthermore, the thermal conductivity of clathrates is very low. This is also important, because otherwise the temperatures on either side would equilibrate, and no voltage would remain.

The World's Hottest Kondo Effect

"The reason for these remarkably good material properties seem to lie in a special kind of electron-electron correlation – the so-called Kondo effect", Silke Bühler-Paschen believes. The electrons of the cerium atom are quantum mechanically linked to the atoms of the crystal. Actually, the Kondo effect is known from low temperature physics, close to absolute zero temperature. But surprisingly, these quantum mechanical correlations also play an important role in the novel clathrate materials, even at a temperature of hundreds of degrees Celcius.

"The rattling of the trapped cerium atoms becomes stronger as the temperature increases", says Bühler-Paschen. "This rattling stabilizes the Kondo effect at high temperatures. We are observing the world's hottest Kondo effect."

More Research for Better and Cheaper Clathrates

The research team at TU Vienna will now try to achieve this effect also with different kinds of clathrates. In order to make the material commercially more attractive, the expensive gold could possibly be substituted by other metals, such as copper. Instead of cerium, a cheaper mixture of several rare-earth elements could be used. There are high hopes that such designer clathrates can be technologically applied in the future, to turn industrial waste heat into valuable electrical energy.

Further Information:

Prof. Silke Bühler-Paschen
Institute of Solid State Physics
Vienna University of Technology
Wiedner Hauptstraße 8-10, 1040 Vienna
T: +43-1-58801-13716
silke.buehler-paschen@tuwien.ac.at
Prof. Andrey Prokofiev
Institute of Solid State Physics
Vienna University of Technology
Wiedner Hauptstraße 8-10, 1040 Wien
T: +43-1-58801-13113
andrey.prokofiev@tuwien.ac.at

Florian Aigner | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.tuwien.ac.at

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging
24.04.2017 | Pohang University of Science & Technology (POSTECH)

nachricht Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics
24.04.2017 | University of Illinois College of Engineering

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>