NanoKTN Paper Looks at Development of Next Generation Thermoelectric and Thermionic Devices

3rd February 2012
Posted By : ES Admin
The Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network is pleased to announce the publishing of a Position Paper, following its one-day workshop held last year to explore emerging technologies and opportunities in the development of next generation thermoelectric and thermionic devices.
Thermal energy harvesting (and solid state cooling) represents a global £1 Billion industry for improved products in a range of markets and application scenarios. However, barriers exist to widespread adoption, and it is concluded that nanotechnology offers the potential for new approaches and a paradigm shift in performance through nanomaterials development, nanostructuring, nano- and microelectronic devices and thin film technologies.

The event which sparked the report was held in April 2011, hosted in partnership with Johnson Matthey and Royal Holloway University of London, saw presentations from key players in industry and academia including Jaguar LandRover and highlighted the huge commercial potential in harvesting energy from waste heat, but also the significant barriers to increasing conversion efficiency, and finding alternative, sustainable, thermoelectric materials.

The market pull for harvesting waste recovery is growing, led primarily by the automotive sector. The Paper concludes that significant new market opportunities would open up if a new generation of higher efficiency and more sustainable materials could be developed, e.g. in harvesting: automotive and HGV exhaust heat, solar thermal energy, high temperature industrial processes, powering sensors and remote off-grid domestic electricity generation. Since the heat already exists and is free, the cost payback time should be the key measure to evaluate these systems.

“The UK is uniquely positioned with leading players over the entire supply chain required to produce and deploy this new generation of energy system. To date, harvesting energy hasn’t had that much attention but now this is changing as people realise a huge amount of heat is being lost. Harvesting energy from wasted heat is both a technical and economic opportunity with the current global market of thermoelectric devices estimated to be around $300M. If the technical challenges can be overcome then the potential applications are extremely wide and the potential market would be many £billions and we will fulfil the ambition to create more highly skilled jobs in science and engineering.” explains Dr Martin Kemp, Theme Manager, NanoKTN.

The position paper, which can be downloaded for free by members of the NanoKTN, makes four key recommendations for the UK covering strategic direction, research funding of technologies and applications, and networking.

Currently, the major market pull for this technology is from the automotive industry, but other sectors such as space and the built environment may emerge as strong drivers. Energy scavenging will also be important in miniaturized electronic devices such as MEMS and self-powered sensor networks, and could feature as part of a combined heat and power (CHP) system, with thermoelectric generators providing significant energy for domestic and commercial buildings.

Other key industries would be in power generation, either in using the sun’s energy for domestic solar thermal and lighting systems, or harvesting the waste heat generated by power stations, or electronics and supercomputers..

In summary, the Position Paper concludes that there is significant opportunity to develop valuable IP in thermoelectric materials and surrounding device-related technologies and systems, and although the UK has world class research in thermoelectrics, it currently has a limited manufacturing capability. New materials using nanotechnology could address cost, efficiency, toxicity and sustainability issues.

Further information about this report and the NanoKTN can be found at or by emailing

Established by the Technology Strategy Board, the NanoKTN is managed by Centre for Process Innovation Ltd, a leading technology development and consulting company.

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