Hyoungchul Kim from Mechanical Engineering received Best Poster Award at the 2011 UM Center for Solar and Thermal Energy Conversion (CSTEC) Workshop for his research “Structural Order-Disorder Transitions and Phonon Conductivity of Partially Filled Skutterudites.” He worked along side Professor Massoud Kaviany from Mechanical Engineering, John C. Thomas and Anton van der Ven from Materials Science and Engineering, Ctirad Uher from Physics, and Baoling Huang from Mechanical Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The CSTEC workshop is meant to discover and develop the science necessary to maximize the energy conversion efficiencies of photovoltaic and thermoelectric devices through integrated theoretical, experimental, and computational strategies.
Their research has the potential for leading to car exhaust systems scavenging waste heat, turning it into energy to warm the cabin or recharge the car’s batteries. The paper focuses on skutterudites, a class of mechanically strong thermoelectric materials that, when combined with certain elements such as barium, have the right mixture of properties to make the energy conversion between thermal and electrical energy.
“We knew that skutterudites are promising materials. But we did not know what features we could manipulate to maximize the conversion of heat into electricity,” said Ctirad Uher, professor in the Department of Physics. “In this paper, we propose that certain configurations of the filler element barium will be very effective in lowering the materials’ thermal conductivity and thus increasing their conversion efficiency.
“This is an important advancement in the sense that it provides guidance for the experimentalists to focus as they try to synthesize highly efficient thermoelectric materials.”
The research is funded by the University of Michigan’s Center for Solar and Thermal Energy Conversion, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.