Addressing the challenges of commercializing new thermoelectric materials

  • Bell L
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The time it takes for new thermoelectric materials to make the transition from first announcement in peer-reviewed publications to commercialization is undesirably long. As a result, universities, laboratories, government agencies, commercial users, and venture funding providers throughout the world have not supported research in the field to the level that would be expected for such an otherwise promising technology. This delay also has led to some misdirection of research efforts and a lack of availability of dependable long-term sponsorship commitments to research in the field. From the perspective of commercial users, this presentation discusses the challenges that the thermoelectric material research community faces in creating materials of commercial value. These challenges are broken down into objectives for both the traditional research activities related to improving ZT and those efforts needed to satisfy other, less recognized requirements which, if unaddressed, can significantly impede or even prevent commercialization. The ZT thresholds that enable much larger markets are presented for power generation, cooling, heating, and temperature control materials. Other important considerations, including semiconductor to metal interface (metallization) properties, material stability and constituent requirements, and costs and environmental-impact-related requirements are discussed. At the system level, factors that impede material development are identified, including challenges arising from a lack of property measurement repeatability among different organizations. Approaches and results are compared with that of the more heavily funded and rapidly developing photovoltaic field. The presentation concludes with recommendations for measures to accelerate thermoelectric material commercialization. 2009 TMS.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Advanced thermoelectric materials
  • Materials commercialization
  • Thermoelectric materials

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  • Lon E. Bell

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