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​High-temperature thermoelectricity for energy-efficient processes: addressing industry’s energy-recovery challenges

Thermoelectricity High Temperature

Published on 22 January 2020

Recovering waste heat from industrial processes and transforming that heat into energy can help reduce a plant’s carbon footprint. Waste-heat-to-energy conversion is a pillar of the emerging “factory of the future” movement. And Liten—which has been working on thermoelectricity for energy recovery since 2012—is driving advances in thermoelectric materials and energy conversion. 

Many industrial processes involve high-temperature steps. Once the heat has served its purpose it is easy to recover and convert into energy using thermoelectricity. However, most of the time that heat simply goes to waste. Our energy-recovery research is of interest to the glass, metallurgical, and aerospace industries, as well as to industrial engineering firms that build turnkey factories. Liten was involved in the creation of a startup that specializes in the development and manufacturing of medium- and high-temperature thermoelectric materials and modules to encourage energy recovery from industrial motors and processes. Joint research carried out over a three-year period enabled the two project partners to bolster their knowledge of materials and high-temperature applications.

Our researchers are also looking at possibilities beyond merely recovering raw energy. Recovered energy can be used to power autonomous sensors at the heart of industrial processes—a prime example of the kinds of systems that will be found inside the factory of the future. Our researchers were able to test a demonstrator system in real-life conditions with partner Rio Tinto. Each project is unique and requires custom development work to ensure that the systems meet reliability and robustness requirements for the harsh environments specific to certain industries, where resistance to high temperatures, airborne substances, electromagnetic fields, and contact with molten metal must be ensured.

And, in all our research and development work, we strive to replace rare and toxic materials like lead and telluride (targeted by the EU REACH regulation) with silicides such as silicon-germanium (SiGe) for very high temperatures (in excess of 500 °C, or in some cases 800 °C) and MnSi combined with MgSi(Sn) for medium temperatures (300 °C to 500 °C). Our research generally begins with a feasibility and technical and economic viability assessment tailored to the manufacturer’s environment and requirements. Then, depending on the electric power to be generated, our researchers determine the size and cost of the thermoelectric system that would be required. The next step is prototyping according to specifications and, finally, testing and validation of the system in real-world conditions.

The drive to recover energy and reuse it at the source to reduce the carbon footprint of industrial processes is a very current topic, and one that will remain at the forefront of the factory of the future.

VideoThermoelectricity High Temperature

  • A broad spectrum of research and development activities from theory to testing demonstrator systems at an actual factory.

  • Know-how encompassing the entire value chain, from materials to modules to complete thermoelectric systems.

  • Direct heat-to-electricity conversion for immediate energy savings and new applications like powering sensors to run industrial processes.

  • Robust, effective, and non-polluting materials.

  • A technology was transferred to HotBlock OnBoard, a spinoff of the CEA founded in 2012. The company now commercializes a solution to recover waste heat in the transportation and manufacturing industries.

  • Joint research with Rio Tinto on the “wireless factory” and the “factory of the future” that involved installing thermoelectric systems at “hot” points of industrial processes; the heat was used to generate electricity to power sensors (temperature, heat flow, etc.) to run the processes.

  • We are also involved in the Phims project, funded by the French National Research Agency. The project is looking at silicide of manganese (MnSi) and its thermoelectric properties; the material offers the advantage of being very affordable and therefore compatible with industrial markets. 


  • Around 20 researchers

  • 40 patents

  • Publications: 

Pereira A, Caroff T, Lorin G, Baffie T, Romanjek K, Vesin S, Kusiaku K, Duchemin H, Salvador V, Miloud-Ali N, Aixala L, Simon J. May 1, 2015. High temperature solar thermoelectric generator – Indoor characterization method and modeling.  Energy 84: 485–492.

Romanjek K, Vesin S, Aixala L, Baffie T, Bernard-Granger G, Dufourcq J. June 2015. High-Performance Silicon-Germanium-Based Thermoelectric Modules for Gas Exhaust Energy Scavenging. Journal of Electronic Materials 44(6): 2192–2202.

Navone C, Baffie T, Bernard-Granger G, Simon J, Soulier M, Romanjek K, Leforestier J, Salvador V, Aixala L. February 27, 2015. Process Scalability for Promising Si Based Thermoelectric Materials.  TMS 2015 Annual Meeting Supplemental Proceedings.