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NSF Awards $500,000 to Pitt and CMU for Engineering Research on Thermoelectric Devices

PITTSBURGH (April 8, 2019) — As much as half of all U.S. energy production each year is lost as waste heat, but new research led by the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, seeks to make converting that heat back into usable electricity more efficient.

Feng Xiong, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School, and Jonathan Malen, professor of mechanical engineering at CMU, received a $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation to develop a thermoelectric semiconductor using tungsten disulfide to convert waste heat into energy. Using a novel doping approach, they will enhance the tungsten disulfide’s electrical conductivity while lowering its thermal conductivity—it will be able to efficiently conduct electricity without conducting heat. Tungsten disulfide is thin and flexible, making it a promising new option with diverse potential uses.

“Once we’ve developed an effective technique to improve thermoelectric efficiency, it will pave the way for the wide use of thermoelectric devices to scavenge heat from sources such as electronics and even the human body,” says Dr. Xiong. “A two-dimensional semiconductor like this would be useful for everything from high-performance 2D transistors to wearable electronics that harvest body heat for power.”

The project length is three years, with a possible extension into a fourth. The award is split between Dr. Xiong’s lab ($270,000) and Dr. Malen’s lab ($230,000). The team will work closely with local communities to encourage students from all backgrounds to explore engineering careers and foster interest in nanotechnology. Outreach efforts will include lab demonstrations, summer internships and career workshops.

“Climate change is a pressing concern in today’s world, and developing ways to use our resources more efficiently is critical,” says Dr. Xiong. “Converting waste heat into electricity could improve energy efficiency dramatically and sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Through this project, we hope to encourage the next generation to explore even more innovative options for energy.”

Author: Maggie Pavlick

Contact: Maggie Pavlick