The new material, which is based on the common semiconductor telluride, is environmentally stable and is expected to convert from 15 to 20 percent of waste heat to electricity. The research team, made up of chemists, material scientists and mechanical engineers from Northwestern University and Michigan State University, say the material exhibits a thermoelectric figure of merit (or “ZT”) of 2.2, which they claim is the highest reported to date.
The higher a material’s ZT, the more efficient it is at converting heat to electricity. While there’s no theoretical upper limit to ZT, no known materials exhibit a ZT higher than 3. The researchers believe with a ZT of 2.2, the new material is efficient enough to be used in practical applications and could usher in more widespread adoption of thermoelectrics by industry.