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Thermoelectricity could help save fuel

​Researchers at Liten, a CEA Tech institute, recently produced thermoelectric materials that meet the specifications of the automotive industry from a cheap, abundant, and non-toxic raw material. The highly-reproducible process was rolled out with success at an almost-industrial scale.

Published on 24 September 2015

The combustion engines that power most motor vehicles offer maximum yields of just 35% to 40%. Researchers at Liten set out to improve those figures by using thermoelectricity to harvest and recycle some of the waste heat that normally escapes out of a car’s tailpipe. The technique involves using thermoelectric semiconductors—which respond to fluctuations in temperature—to convert heat to electricity.

In research conducted in partnership with automotive component manufacturer Valeo and startup HotBlock OnBoard, Liten’s scientists began by designing and making the terminals that would form the core of the future thermogenerator from a silicon-based material that is both cheap and environmentally-friendly. The material was first sprayed, and then sintered to achieve the desired shape.

Liten’s thermoelement lab played a pivotal role, providing the equipment and know-how needed to successfully manufacture the thermoelements using a process that proved to be reproducible at a large scale (2,000 units).

In research conducted under the Renoter2 project, financed by the French Single Interministerial Fund, a prototype with a 400-watt electrical capacity will be developed. If successful, the prototype will generate fuel savings of 3% and bring the CO2/km rate down by 2 g to 4 g in NEDC emissions testing.

The results of both projects should pave the way for industrial-scale manufacturing of the thermogenerator, positioning Liten on the extremely-demanding and potentially vast automotive market.

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