Megan Fellman writes for Northwestern University:
One strategy for addressing the world’s energy crisis is to stop wasting so much energy when producing and using it, which can happen in coal-fired power plants or transportation. Nearly two-thirds of energy input is lost as waste heat.
Now Northwestern University scientists have discovered a surprising material that is the best in the world at converting waste heat to useful electricity. This outstanding property could be exploited in solid-state thermoelectric devices in a variety of industries, with potentially enormous energy savings.
An interdisciplinary team led by inorganic chemist Mercouri G. Kanatzidis found the crystal form of the chemical compound tin selenide conducts heat so poorly through its lattice structure that it is the most efficient thermoelectric material known. Unlike most thermoelectric materials, tin selenide has a simple structure, much like that of an accordion, which provides the key to its exceptional properties.