NREL Researches Capturing Waste Heat Via Nanotubes

There may be a remarkable potential energy future for nanotubes.

Researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) believe finely tuned carbon nanotube thin film has the potential to act as a thermoelectric power generator which captures and uses waste heat.

carbon nanotube shutterstock_367763981According to press information, this research might help guide the manufacture of thermoelectric devices based on either single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) films or composites containing these nanotubes. Because more than half of the energy consumed worldwide is rejected primarily as waste heat, the idea of thermoelectric power generation is emerging as a potentially important part of renewable energy portfolios. Then there is the emerging and expanding field of and energy efficiency.

“There have not been many examples where people have really looked at the intrinsic thermoelectric properties of carbon nanotubes and that’s what we feel this paper does,” said Andrew Ferguson, a research scientist in NREL’s Chemical and Materials Science Center and co-lead author of the paper with Jeffrey Blackburn.

The research, “Tailored Semiconducting Carbon Nanotube Networks with Enhanced Thermoelectric Properties,” appears in the journal Nature Energy. The research represents a collaboration between :

As  reported in EurekAlert, nanostructured inorganic semiconductors have demonstrated promise for improving the performance of thermoelectric devices.

“Inorganic materials can run into problems when the semiconductor needs to be lightweight, flexible, or irregularly shaped because they are often heavy and lack the required flexibility. Carbon nanotubes, which are organic, are lighter and more flexible.

‘How useful a particular SWCNT is for thermoelectrics, however, depends on whether the nanotube is metallic or a semiconductor, both of which are produced simultaneously in SWCNT syntheses. A metallic nanotube would harm devices such as a thermoelectric generator, whereas a semiconductor nanotube actually enhances performance. Furthermore, as with most optical and electrical devices, the electrical band gap of the semiconducting SWCNT should affect the thermoelectric performance as well.”

Blackburn, a senior scientist and manager of NREL’s Spectroscopy and Photoscience group, has developed an expertise at separating semiconducting nanotubes from metallic ones.  His methods were critical to the research, Ferguson said. “We are at a distinct advantage here that we can actually use that to probe the fundamental properties of the nanotubes,” he said.

Further information on this valuable research endeavor is available at this AAAS story.

Image via Shutterstock

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