Thermoelectric (TE) materials that are capable of converting heat into electricity have been considered as one possible solution to recover the low-grade waste-heat (from industrial waste-stream, motor engines, household electronic appliances or body-heat).
At SPHYNX, we explore thermoelectric effects in an entirely different class of materials, namely, complex fluids containing electrically charged nanoparticles that serve as both heat and electricity carriers. Unlike in solid materials, there are several inter-dependent TE effects taking place in liquids, resulting in Se values that are generally an order of magnitude larger that the semiconductor counterparts. Furthermore, these fluids are composed of Earth-abundant raw materials, making them attractive for future TE-materials that are low-cost and environmentally friendly. While the precise origins of high Seebeck coefficients in these fluids are still debated, our recent results indicate the decisive role played by the physico-chemical nature of particle-liquid interface.
The goal of the PhD project is two-fold :
- First, we will investigate the underlying laws of thermodynamic mechanisms behind the thermoelectric potential and power generation and other associated phenomena in nanofluids. More specifically, we are interested in how the particles' Eastman entropy of transfer is produced under the influence of thermal, electrical and concentration gradients. The results will be compared to their thermos-diffusive and optical abosrption properties to be obtained through research collaborations.
- Second, the project aims to test the promising nanofluids in the proof-of-concept hybrid solar-collector devices currently developed within the group to demonstrate the co-generation capability of heat and electricity. The hybrid device optimization is also within the project's scope
The proposed research project is primarily experimental, involving thermos-electrical, thermal and electrochemical measurements; implementation of automated data acquisition system and analysis of the resulting data obtained. The notions of thermodynamics, fluid physics and engineering (device) physics, as well as hands-on knowledge of experimental device manipulation are needed. Basic knowledge of optics and electrochemistry is a plus. For motivated students, numerical simulations using commercial CFD software, as well as the optical absorption measurements at the partner lab (LNO/CNR, Florence, Italy) can also be envisaged.