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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/L024918/1
Title: Feasibility of heat conversion to electricity by new spin Seebeck based thermoelectrics
Principal Investigator: Morrison, Professor K
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Physics
Organisation: Loughborough University
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 07 April 2014 Ends: 06 April 2016 Value (£): 97,423
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Materials Characterisation Materials Synthesis & Growth
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
05 Feb 2014 EPSRC Physical Sciences Materials - February 2014 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The UK has committed to meet an 80% reduction in greenhouse emissions relative to 1990 by 2050. Currently, it is recognised that this will likely stem from a diverse portfolio of renewable and existing energy sources as well as the development of technologies for energy storage, conversion and usage. As the majority of the UK's total energy consumption can be attributed to heating (48%) and transport (38%) these are clearly significant targets for change.

One possible route for energy storage on a domestic scale is the storage of heat that could later be converted to electricity if required. Energy harvesters designed to recycle or use various forms of energy that would otherwise be wasted (such as kinetic, thermal, acoustic, or solar), could also find applications with regards to reduction of energy demands. A technology that applies to both these applications is the thermoelectric energy generator (TEG).

The TEG is typically based on the Seebeck effect: a physical process that results in the generation of an electric current when a temperature difference exists between two terminals. Advantages of this technology include reliability, flexibility, and relatively small volumes, however due to low efficiencies and high costs it is currently limited to niche markets. One of the bottlenecks for improvement of the TEG efficiency is the co-dependence of the key material properties (i.e., thermal and electric conductivities) according to the Wiedemann-Franz law. Whilst some progress has been made on this by nano-engineering, there is still some way to go before widespread commercialisation becomes viable.

A solution to this bottleneck could be found in a new phenomena that involves the interplay of thermal and electron spin currents: the spin Seebeck effect. It is similar to the Seebeck effect in that a thermal gradient can be used to generate a current, but with two main differences: the material must be magnetic (whether metallic, insulating or semiconducting), and the electric current generated is spin polarised. This is significant as it has led to the observation of spin dependant conductivity, a feature that could allow us to sidestep the limit imposed by the Wiedemann-Franz Law and thus improve the efficiency of TEGs further.

Harnessing the maximum spin polarised current generated by the spin Seebeck effect typically requires the use of expensive platinum contacts. For such technology to become economically viable therefore would require research into cheaper alternatives. It has been shown that small amounts of platinum, bismuth or tantalum in otherwise 'inactive' copper can result in a similar harvested voltage compared to pure platinum contacts. The aim of this research project therefore, is to explore the possibility of alternative metal contacts with respect to spin Seebeck effect based TEGs and to assess the viability of such an application.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.lboro.ac.uk