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Thermoelectric energy

Thermoelectric materials have properties that enable them to be used to convert heat into electrical energy (generators) or convert electrical energy into heat (heat pumps). At UiS, we are working to develop both thermoelectric heat pumps and thermoelectric generators.

Heat is one of the purest forms of energy. All processes that convert energy from one form to another will also generate heat. A car engine or an aluminium plant are examples of places where heat that is not utilised is released. This heat is lost to the surroundings, or becomes waste heat, also known as surplus heat. If this heat that is generated but not utilised passes through a thermoelectric material, some of the heat energy will be transferred into an electrical current.

Thermoelectricity consists of electrical currents and voltages created through temperature differences within or between electrical conductors or semiconductors. Therefore, a thermoelectric material generates an electrical current. 

Until now, this process has not been particularly efficient. These materials have thus far been too expensive and inefficient to be profitable, but new materials are now being discovered that can be produced more cheaply and are more efficient. Academic communities around the world are working to produce more efficient materials. A small research community at UiS is linked to a larger community in Norway.

Sustainable energy

Thermoelectricity is a fundamental physical property and an excellent alternative for converting waste heat into electricity for efficient, environmentally friendly and maintenance-free cooling systems and heat pumps.

Thermoelectric modules can be combined to form both large and small units, are easy to move, have low noise levels and produce no pollution. In order to realise the large-scale use of thermoelectric modules, it is necessary to improve efficiency and reduce degradation and the costs associated with preparing the material. Furthermore, it is necessary to develop new materials in which environmentally hazardous elements are replaced with readily available environmentally friendly elements.

Researchers at UiS are working to develop thermoelectric materials and the use of such materials in renewable technology, such as heat pumps. UiS has a small building that is used as a test laboratory for the development of technology associated with heat.

Thermoelectric module consisting of tiny cubes made of bismuth telluride.

Here, we can see a thermoelectric module consisting of tiny cubes made of bismuth telluride. Electrical currents and voltages are created between the cubes due to temperature differences. Photo: Elisabeth Tønnessen