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Fossil fuels power modern society by generating heat, but much of that heat is wasted. Semiconductor devices called thermoelectrics can reclaim some of it by converting it into power, but they remain too inefficient and expensive for widespread application. Now, scientists in Illinois have used a cheap, well-known material to create the most heat-hungry thermoelectric so far. In the process, the researchers say, they learned valuable lessons that could push the materials over the commercial threshold. If that happens, thermoelectrics could one day power cars and scavenge energy from engines, boilers, and electrical plants.

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