Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Creating electricity with caged atoms

Date:
September 22, 2013
Source:
Vienna University of Technology
Summary:
Clathrates are crystals consisting of tiny cages in which single atoms can be enclosed. These atoms significantly alter the material properties of the crystal. By trapping cerium atoms in a clathrate, scientists have created a material which has extremely strong thermoelectric properties. It can be used to turn waste heat into electricity.

Clathrates: Tiny cages enclosing single atoms are shown.
Credit: TU Vienna

A lot of energy is wasted when machines turn hot, unnecessarily heating up their environment. Some of this thermal energy could be harvested using thermoelectric materials; they create electric current when they are used to bridge hot and cold objects. At the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna), a new and considerably more efficient class of thermoelectric materials can now be produced. It is the material's very special crystal structure that does the trick, in connection with an astonishing new physical effect; in countless tiny cages within the crystal, cerium atoms are enclosed. These trapped magnetic atoms are constantly rattling the bars of their cage, and this rattling seems to be responsible for the material's exceptionally favourable properties.

Related Articles


Cerium Cages from the Mirror Oven

"Clathrates" is the technical term for crystals, in which host atoms are enclosed in cage-like spaces. "These clathrates show remarkable thermal properties," says Professor Silke Bühler-Paschen (TU Vienna). The exact behaviour of the material depends on the interaction between the trapped atoms and the cage surrounding them. "We came up with the idea to trap cerium atoms, because their magnetic properties promised particularly interesting kinds of interaction," explains Bühler-Paschen.

For a long time, this task seemed impossible. All earlier attempts to incorporate magnetic atoms such as the rare-earth metal cerium into the clathrate structures failed. With the help of a sophisticated crystal growth technique in a mirror oven, Professor Andrey Prokofiev (TU Vienna) has now succeeded in creating clathrates made of barium, silicon and gold, encapsulating single cerium atoms.

Electricity from Temperature Differences

The thermoelectric properties of the novel material have been tested. Thermoelectrics work when they connect something hot with something cold: "The thermal motion of the electrons in the material depends on the temperature," explains Bühler-Paschen. "On the hot side, there is more thermal motion than on the cold side, so the electrons diffuse towards the colder region. Therefore, a voltage is created between the two sides of the thermoelectric material."

Experiments show that the cerium atoms increase the material's thermopower by 50%, so a much higher voltage can be obtained. Furthermore, the thermal conductivity of clathrates is very low. This is also important, because otherwise the temperatures on either side would equilibrate, and no voltage would remain.

The World's Hottest Kondo Effect

"The reason for these remarkably good material properties seem to lie in a special kind of electron-electron correlation -- the so-called Kondo effect," Silke Bühler-Paschen believes. The electrons of the cerium atom are quantum mechanically linked to the atoms of the crystal. Actually, the Kondo effect is known from low temperature physics, close to absolute zero temperature. But surprisingly, these quantum mechanical correlations also play an important role in the novel clathrate materials, even at a temperature of hundreds of degrees Celcius.

"The rattling of the trapped cerium atoms becomes stronger as the temperature increases," says Bühler-Paschen. "This rattling stabilizes the Kondo effect at high temperatures. We are observing the world's hottest Kondo effect."

More Research for Better and Cheaper Clathrates

The research team at TU Vienna will now try to achieve this effect also with different kinds of clathrates. In order to make the material commercially more attractive, the expensive gold could possibly be substituted by other metals, such as copper. Instead of cerium, a cheaper mixture of several rare-earth elements could be used. There are high hopes that such designer clathrates can be technologically applied in the future, to turn industrial waste heat into valuable electrical energy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vienna University of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. Prokofiev, A. Sidorenko, K. Hradil, M. Ikeda, R. Svagera, M. Waas, H. Winkler, K. Neumaier, S. Paschen. Thermopower enhancement by encapsulating cerium in clathrate cages. Nature Materials, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nmat3756

Cite This Page:

Vienna University of Technology. "Creating electricity with caged atoms." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130922155126.htm>.
Vienna University of Technology. (2013, September 22). Creating electricity with caged atoms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130922155126.htm
Vienna University of Technology. "Creating electricity with caged atoms." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130922155126.htm (accessed November 1, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU, Russia, Ukraine Seal Breakthrough Gas Accord

EU, Russia, Ukraine Seal Breakthrough Gas Accord

AFP (Oct. 31, 2014) — Russia agrees to resume gas deliveries to war-torn Ukraine through the winter in an EU-brokered, multi-billion dollar deal signed by the three parties in Brussels. Duration: 01:10 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Relief After “gas War” Is Averted

Relief After “gas War” Is Averted

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 31, 2014) — A gas war between Russia and Ukraine has been averted. But as Hayley Platt reports a deal was only reached after Kiev's western creditors agreed to partly funding the deal. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jaguar Land Rover Opens $800 Million Factory in Britain

Jaguar Land Rover Opens $800 Million Factory in Britain

AFP (Oct. 30, 2014) — British luxury car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover opened a $800 million engine manufacturing centre in western England, creating 1,400 jobs. Duration: 00:45 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
SkyCruiser Concept Claims to Solve Problem With Flying Cars

SkyCruiser Concept Claims to Solve Problem With Flying Cars

Buzz60 (Oct. 30, 2014) — A start-up company called Krossblade says its SkyCruiser concept flying car solves the problem with most flying car concepts. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins