A Hokkaido University team has found a thermoelectric metal oxide film with a thermoelectric figure of merit of ~0.55 at 600° C, opening new avenues towards the widespread use of thermoelectric converters.

The team led by Professor Hiromichi Ohta at the Research Institute for Electronic Science at Hokkaido University synthesized a barium cobalt oxide thermoelectric converter that is reproducibly stable and efficient at temperatures as high as 600° C.

Left, the crystal structure of the barium cobalt oxide film. Image Credit: Xi Zhang, Yuqiao Zhang, et al. from ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. July 12, 2022, and Right, the metal oxide film itself. Image Credit: Hiromichi Ohta, Hokkaido University.

The findings have been published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Waste heat is a very promising source of energy conservation and reuse, by means of converting this heat into electricity – a process called thermoelectric conversion. Today’s commercially available thermoelectric conversion devices are synthesized using rare metals. While these are quite efficient, they are expensive and, in the majority of cases, utilize toxic materials. Both these factors have led to these converters being of limited use. One of the alternatives are oxide-based thermoelectric materials, but the primary drawback these suffer from is a lack of evidence of their stability at high temperatures.

Thermoelectric conversion is driven by the Seebeck effect: when there is a temperature difference across a conducting material, an electric current is generated. However, efficiency of thermoelectric conversion is dependent on a figure called the thermoelectric figure of merit ZT. Historically, oxide-based converters had a low ZT, but recent research has revealed many candidates that have high ZT, but their stability at high temperatures was not well documented.

Hiromichi Ohta’s group has been working on layered cobalt oxide films for over two decades. In this study, the team sought to examine the thermal and chemical stability of these films, as well as measure their ZT values, at high temperatures. They tested cobalt oxide films layered with sodium, calcium, strontium or barium, analyzing their structure, resistivity, and thermal conductivity.

They found that, of the four variants, the barium cobalt oxide layered film retained its stability in terms of structural integrity and electrical resistivity at temperatures as high as 600° C. In comparison, the sodium- and calcium cobalt oxide films were only stable until 350° C, and the strontium cobalt oxide film was stable up to 450° C. The ZT of the barium cobalt oxide film increased with the temperature, reaching ~0.55 at 600° C, comparable to some commercially available thermoelectric converters.

Hiromichi Ohta said, “Our study has shown that barium cobalt oxide films would be excellent candidates for high-temperature thermoelectric conversion devices. In addition, they are environment friendly, giving potential for wide deployment.”


Now this is exciting news! Covering the high temp zone with a lower cost and efficient thermoelectric might now be a much larger marketplace. That success and hopefully some scaling up and market growth might trigger the search for very highly efficient low temp thermoelectric materials.

The recycling of heat otherwise just lost could be a major solution to the problem of increasing consumer energy costs. Lets hope the research continues. Scaling up is successful and the market drives efficiencies and costs to consumers plummet.

The only catch in this is that cobalt isn’t really cheap or in great supply.


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