Materials with the right combination of high electrical conductivity, high Seebeck coefficients and low thermal conductivity can be used to directly convert heat energy into electricity for applications ranging from radioisotope thermoelectric generator powering the Curiosity Mars rover to terrestrial generators recovering waste heat in cars and trucks. The same thermoelectric materials can be used in reverse to create a temperature gradient for portable cooling applications and micro-refrigeration. At the other extreme, materials with high thermal conductivity and phase changes at high temperature find applications in thermal energy storage at solar concentrating plants.
Our research focuses on the relationship between the crystal chemistry of inorganic materials and their ability to transport, convert, and store energy in the forms of heat and electricity. By controlling the chemistry of novel materials, we can tune their thermal and electronic properties to develop improved materials for thermal energy conversion and storage.