Improved Thermoelectric Devices

Phononic Devices
Advanced Semiconductor Materials for Thermoelectric Devices
Graphic of Phononic's technology
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,000,000
Location: 
Raleigh, NC
Project Term: 
12/11/2009 to 03/30/2012
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Wasted heat is an unavoidable by-product of any power produced by electrical devices or machines. While a little heat from a computer or cell phone does not seem like a big deal, the cumulative loss of heat from all power generated in the U.S. each year is over 50%. In some cases, air conditioners are even used to expel waste heat, which creates more wasted energy and can cause temperatures to rise in dense urban environments. Waste heat capture, which turns excess thermal energy into electricity, has the potential to provide consumers with billions of dollars in energy savings each year.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Phononic Devices is working to recapture waste heat and convert it into usable electric power. To do this, the company is using thermoelectric devices, which are made from advanced semiconductor materials that convert heat into electricity or actively remove heat for refrigeration and cooling purposes. Thermoelectric devices resemble computer chips, and they manage heat by manipulating the direction of electrons at the nanoscale. These devices aren't new, but they are currently too inefficient and expensive for widespread use. Phononic Devices is using a high-performance, cost-effective thermoelectric design that will improve the device's efficiency and enable electronics manufacturers to more easily integrate them into their products.
Impact Summary: 
If successful, Phononic Devices would improve the efficiency of thermoelectric devices by 30% and make it easier to incorporate energy-saving thermoelectric devices into mainstream cooling, refrigeration, and waste-heat recovery equipment.
Security: 
Turning waste heat into usable electric power would reduce energy consumption and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Environment: 
Efficient, low-grade, waste-heat recovery can eliminate the use of over 400,000 tons of coal per year.
Economy: 
Thermoelectrics have the potential to create a $125 billion industry and save consumers and businesses from wasting their hard-earned money on paying for waste heat.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Eric Toone
Project Contact: 
Dr. Anthony Atti
Partners
University of Oklahoma