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Salvaging waste heat into electricity thanks to INTEGRAL thermoelectric materials

Thermoelectric materials enable a direct conversion of heat into electricity whereas this energy, produced for instance in thermal engines, is seldom recuperated. However, current thermoelectric materials are based on rare or toxic elements. The European INTEGRAL project targets the development of low-cost and eco-friendly second-generation thermoelectric (GEN2 TE) materials which can impact positively transportation and energy intensive industry by converting nowadays wasted heat into electricity.​

Published on 7 March 2017
Thermoelectric (TE) materials have been studied for several decades now. Improved TE materials are now emerging with the so-called second-generation thermoelectric (GEN2 TE) materials: silicides1  and half-Heusler2.  These materials are low-cost, based on most earth-abundant elements and eco-friendly. Even if the conversion yield is low, any benefit in the energy conversion process is good to take when the heat power would be lost anyway, like in thermal engines or in energy intensive industries. Thus, those GEN2 TE can improve the energy efficiency in a large part of European industry and society by converting waste heat into electricity.

Most current thermoelectric materials are based on rare or toxic elements, which precludes their implementation at large scale. More sustainable materials have been extensively investigated over the years, but mostly at laboratory scale. Furthermore, they failed so far to achieve sufficient performance levels to justify heavy industrial investments towards full scale production and market introduction. At last the INTEGRAL Project gathers high level experts within three value chains where thermoelectric generators are expected to fulfil significant market needs: individual cars, transportation trucks and distant sensors in energy intensive industries, e.g. metal or glass production. The originality of the project is to involve industrial producers and converters of thermoelectric materials as well as their end-users and final customers, thus covering the whole development chain.

The aim of the INTEGRAL project is to upscale the GEN2 TE material technology using existing European pilot lines and growing SMEs, in order to address mass markets TE needs (automotive, heavy duty trucks, autonomous sensors and waste heat recovery in the industry). The INTEGRAL project is unique since it gathers in a complete value chain the major companies (including SMEs and start-ups) developing GEN2 TE advanced materials in Europe and cutting-edge research centres. 

An integral nano-based development of TE materials

1 Silicides are silicon-based semi-conductors where specific electric properties are given by adding small amounts of e.g. Germanium, Magnesium, Manganese or Tin.
INTEGRAL will allow the industry to step up towards advanced manufacturing and commercialization of systems integrating multifunctional TE materials on a nano-based approach. Furthermore, the large-scale processes which will be developed for producing nanostructured materials within the INTEGRAL project will explore a wider range of applications outside thermoelectrics, in particular where customization of electrical or thermal properties of sintered or casted materials are needed. Finally, a technology transfer will be performed from research activities to pilot-lines, towards the commercialization of the new generation of advanced materials with a circular economy vision.
2  Heusler alloys are intermetallic compounds with original ferromagnetic properties. Half-Heusler alloys are semi-conductors with in particular valuable thermo-electric properties.
Three major Pilot Lines or Technology Platforms in Europe (in France, Germany and The Netherlands)3  will support key industrial stakeholders in improving material performance and process parameters, which will allow them to scale-up industrial production of thermoelectric materials. The project INTEGRAL has been launched in December 2016 with its first meeting held at the CEA’s Technology Platform Poudr’Innov 2.0 in Grenoble.
 3 Poudr’Innov 2.0 at CEA Grenoble, France; Isabellenhütte, Dillenburg, Germany; RGS, Broek op Langedeijk, The Netherlands


The powder metallurgy platform POUDR'INNOV 2.0 develops high-added value magnets and components from metal, ceramic, semi-conductive and magnetic powders with applications on the connector, lighting, electronics, healthcare, fine chemicals, and energy markets. © CEA

The European Commission bankroll INTEGRAL to the amount of 7 M € over a total budget of 8.5 M €. This Innovation Action project gathers 13 partners from 8 countries and is coordinated by CEA. All partners are fully committed to make of INTEGRAL a decisive milestone in industrial production and sustainable use of thermoelectric generators for energy harvesting. (EU Grant Agreement number 720878)

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