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17 June 2013 / Cambridge Journals
United States

New Materials Reuse Wasted Auto Heat Asserts MRS Bulletin Article

If your next change of car is due in 2020, the new model you drive away from the dealership should boast some revolutionary features that will change forever the way vehicles use energy.

That's the conclusion in Philip Ball's article Thermoelectric heat recovery could boost auto fuel economy from the latest Energy Quarterly (EQ) section in the June 2013 issue of MRS Bulletin. With guidance from Feature Editor Thierry Caillat of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, EQ interviewed the scientists at the forefront of the fast-emerging field of thermoelectrics for use in engines and concluded that the future is nearer than we think. EQ is a special section published in the March, June, September, and December issues of MRS Bulletin, a journal of the Materials Research Society published by Cambridge University Press.

Thermoelectrics (TE) could soon be powering your car's air conditioning, lights, windows, and the electric doors, platforms, and hydraulics in transportation and construction vehicles. Energy now wasted in automobiles in the form of heat (only a third of a US gallon of fuel is currently converted to power a car and its systems) could be transformed directly into electrical energy by TE generators installed in the car's exhaust system, where they can harvest the heat of exhaust gases expelled at temperatures of 300-500°C.

Prototype TE systems have already been demonstrated by General Motors, BMW, and Ford, while Volkswagen and Daimler-Benz are also working on designs. One of the factors driving the interest in TE is the rising standards for fuel efficiency in Europe. By 2020, the average fuel consumption of all new cars must be at least 25 km/l (70 miles per US gallon). The costs of research and development may be high but the costs of carbon-emissions penalties may be even higher, so car makers are getting on with the job.

And they have reason to be optimistic. NASA has recently reported TE conversion efficiencies of up to 15% while generating energy for spacecraft. If similar efficiencies could be achieved for the smaller temperatures generated in cars, capturing 5-10% of a vehicle's waste heat by TEs could reduce fuel consumption by 3-6%. This would yield big savings in both costs and emissions.

The rise in nanotechnology has also played its part in moving TE forward. TE materials can be improved and made more usable by recent research at the nanoscale that has revealed more about how they are built and how their architecture can be enhanced. Chemist and materials scientist Mercouri Kanatzidis of Northwestern University, Illinois, told EQ:  "After all the advances in the past four or five years, we now have materials good enough to go into products. Now we can see that these systems really will save fuel."

Once the materials issues are resolved there still remains the challenge of meshing these with the car's engineering. However, Daniel Jänsch, who heads TE research for IAV, a Berlin-based innovation company that provides engineering services to the automotive industry, is confident enough to make this prediction: "If TE materials research fulfills its promise, we can expect systems in passenger cars to enter the market by 2020."

In the same issue of MRS Bulletin, an interview with Google's new Vice-President for Energy (formerly the high-prolife Director of the US Government's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) Arun Majumdar gives his take on the energy challenges facing the US and, speaking about the automobile industry, gives his opinion that developing economies may have a lot to teach the longer-industrialized nations, burdened with legacy systems that make starting with a 'clean sheet' impossible. He said: "In transportation, today we have only one option - using gasoline or diesel as the fuel - and thereby we face future vulnerability if we do not diversify our fuel source. In many cases, the developing economies of the world offer the opportunity to leapfrog and start something new that the United States does not allow because of our legacy systems."

Commenting on his remit at Google, which has invested over $915 million in the renewable energy sector, Majumdar is frank about the company's priorities: "Google is a private company, and the investment...is not for charity, but rather to get returns. Google's philosophy is to do good for the world and make money at the same time."

The latest EQ can be found at http://journals.cambridge.org/MRSEQ.

MRS Bulletin
is one of the most widely recognized and highly respected publications in advanced materials research. Published monthly, it features technical theme topics that capture a snapshot of the state-of-the-art of materials research. Written by leading experts, the overview articles are useful references for specialists but are also presented at a level understandable to a broad scientific audience.

Ends

Notes to Editors

About the Materials Research Society
The Materials Research Society (MRS) is an international organization of over 16,000 materials researchers from academia, industry and government, and a recognized leader in promoting the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research to improve the quality of life. MRS members are engaged and enthusiastic professionals hailing from physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering-the full spectrum of materials research.

Headquartered in Warrendale, Pennsylvania (USA), MRS membership now spans over 80 countries, with more than 40% of members residing outside the United States. In addition to its communications and publications portfolio, MRS organizes high-quality scientific meetings, attracting over 13,000 attendees annually and facilitating interactions among a wide range of experts from the cutting edge of the global materials community. MRS is also a recognized leader in education outreach and advocacy for scientific research.

For further information, go to: www.mrs.org

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