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Microwave Technology Adapted to Cut Energy Waste

Skutterudite crystal structure (Oysteinp/Wikipedia)

Skutterudite crystal structure (Oysteinp/Wikipedia)

Researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis have adapted technology similar to the familiar microwave oven to improve methods for capturing wasted heat and turn it into electric power. A team led by materials scientist Mas Subramanian published its findings online in the journal Materials Research Bulletin (paid subscription required).

Subramanian and colleagues used a group of crystalline compounds called skutterudites to turn waste heat into electric power. Skutterudites can absorb heat and generate electric power, but have been slow and difficult to produce, and often required the use of toxic materials.

The Oregon State researchers used microwave technology to generate skutterudites with an indium cobalt antimonite compound. Their process enabled them to reduce the time needed to produce these skutterudites from two days to two minutes.

The potential for capturing waste heat is huge. Automobiles, for example, waste about two-thirds of the energy it produces. Other potential targets are factories, machines and power plants that discard enormous amounts of energy.

Subramanian says, “It’s the first time we’ve ever used microwave technology to produce this class of materials.” He and his colleagues are continuing their research, and believe that ultimately a range of different compounds may be needed for different applications of thermoelectric generation.

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