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Widespread use on the horizon - Thermoelectrics conference breaks all records

From 26th to 30th July, 2009, about 600 experts from 40 different countries met in Freiburg for the by far greatest thermoelectrics conference of all times.

The 28th International / 7th European Conference on Thermoelectrics yielded important results, e.g., in the discussion of how thermoelectric generators can be further improved. The path leading to widespread use of waste heat recycling is clearly laid out for thermoelectrics.

In his opening speech at the conference, Baden-Württemberg's minister of economic affairs, Ernst Pfister, emphasized the economic and environmental benefits of thermoelectrics in particular.

"New technologies for the utilization of unused heat fractions at least in part are in dire need", Pfister said in Freiburg, alluding to the fact that more than 60 percent of all consumed fossil primary energy are dissipated unused as heat energy. According to Pfister, as one of the most promising technologies enabling direct conversion of heat into electricity, thermoelectrics could contribute greatly to more efficient energy handling.

Apart from the conference host, Fraunhofer IPM, both the International and the European Thermoelectric Society can look back on a most successful week. Attracting an attendance of about 600, the event has grown in size and relevance in a way that would have been considered impossible just a few years ago.

Nearly twice the last year's number of experts took the opportunity to exchange views with their colleagues. And the international guests were not only impressed by the conference's scientific part but also by its diverse social program. The event started with a reception hosted by the City of Freiburg in the Historic Merchants' Hall on the Münster square. Halfway through the conference, an excursion into the Black Forest was organized and a gala dinner was held in the concert hall.

Conference highlights

- Materials: Improving material efficiency and recycling of tellurium-containing and therefore very expensive materials continue to be of highest priority.

- Manufacturing: So-called spark plasma sintering - a short-time sintering method similar to hot pressing - is increasingly gaining centre stage for manufacturing thermoelectric modules but also for volume production of thermoelectric devices.

- Refrigeration: Not only reducing fuel consumption provides its share in fighting climatic change. Avoiding CFCs in car air conditioning can also help in a valuable way. Small thermoelectric cooling systems that cool only the passengers rather than the whole car interior could replace conventional air conditioning.

- Waste-heat recycling: Based on vehicle tests with thermogenerators, the automotive industry predicts that efficient thermogenerators in conjunction with sophisticated power management will be able to improve fuel efficiency by around five to seven percent. Diesel and petrol engines make different demands on waste-heat recycling, however. This should be taken into account when optimizing the respective parameters such as, e.g., compression or exhaust gas temperature.

- Exhibition: A prototype car fitted with a thermoelectric generator for waste-heat recovery and presented by the Berlin based company IAV was one of the highlights of the exhibition accompanying the event. The Freiburg based company Micropelt, a spin-off of a Fraunhofer IPM development, presented commercial products for cooling applications and for energy self-sufficient sensor equipment. Apart from waste-heat recovery, generating minute amounts of energy for energy-independent sensors - e.g., for monitoring safety relevant parts such as aircraft shells - constitutes the second major application for thermoelectrics.

The future of thermoelectrics
In recent years, the development of thermoelectric materials has advanced tremendously with the result that widespread use of this technology can be expected in just a few years from now. Improving energy efficiency is a global issue. And thermoelectrics will contribute its share to that.

Assisted by the Federal State, Fraunhofer IPM is planning to establish a research association, "Thermoelectrics Baden-Württemberg", in Freiburg. This association will further accelerate material, module, and systems development and add to the strength of the Location of Germany and, especially, Baden-Württemberg. "Already, Freiburg is an established factor in thermoelectrics", says Harald Böttner, Chairman of the international Conference ICT2009 in Freiburg. "We are receiving a lot of acceptance from all sides. And politics are also willing to help us along our way." This, among other things, includes building a thermoelectrics competence centre on the Fraunhofer IPM's site. Therefore, Freiburg thermoelectrics can look to the future with great expectations and high motivation.

Your contact:
Dr. Harald Böttner
Head of Thermoelectric Systems department
Phone +49 761 8857-121
The Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM develops and implements turn-key optical sensor and imaging systems. In the thermoelectrics field, the institute occupies a leading position in materials research, simulation, and systems design. In thin film technology, Fraunhofer IPM works on materials, production processes, and systems; semiconductor gas sensors form a further field of activity.

Holger Kock | idw
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