- Thermoelectric materials can generate electricity from heat , but contain expensive and sometimes toxic elements such as lead and tellurium
- A synthetic crystal now created can replace the problematic elements and form the basis for inexpensive and non-toxic thermoelectric materials
- The manufacturing process is simple and also possible on an industrial scale
A synthetic copper-based crystal enables the production of new thermoelectric materials that can be used to efficiently and cheaply generate electrical energy from heat.
Caen (France). Thermoelectric materials generate electricity from heat . Among other things, they are used in industrial processes to utilize waste heat. They are also used in electronic components, for example for cooling in smartphones and in electric cars.
However, the thermoelectric materials with the highest efficiency have so far been problematic because they contain expensive and sometimes toxic elements such as lead and tellurium. Scientists are therefore working on synthetic copper minerals that can be produced from non-toxic elements that are found in large quantities in the earth’s crust .
Synthetic copper mineral crystal
Researchers from the CRISMAT laboratory have now presented a crystal made from a synthetic copper mineral in the specialist journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition , which is said to open up “new perspectives” in the development of safe and inexpensive thermoelectric materials.
Manufacturing process suitable for industry
The synthetic crystal is composed of copper , manganese, germanium, and sulfur. According to materials scientist Emmanuel Guilmeau, the manufacturing process is simple and can also be scaled up to industrial scales.
“The powders are mechanically ball milled into a pre-crystalline alloy and then compacted at 600 degrees Celsius.”
The structural change in the material works by replacing a minimal proportion of the manganese with copper. This creates complex microstructures that form the basis for the transport of electrons and heat.
The thermoelectric material remains stable up to 400 degrees Celsius. It is therefore also suitable for use in the waste heat systems of most industrial plants . The researchers are certain that in future new thermoelectric materials based on the synthetic crystal can be developed to replace the toxic materials currently used.
Angewandte Chemie International Edition, doi: 10.1002/anie.202210600