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GMZ Energy Announces Commercial Availability of More Efficient Thermoelectric Material

A cross-section of nano-crystalline bismuth antimony telluride grains, as viewed through a transmission electron microscope. Colors highlight the features of each grain of the semiconductor alloy in bulk form. Click to enlarge. Image: Boston College, MIT, and GMZ Inc.

GMZ Energy has the commercial availability of a new thermoelectric material that is more efficient at converting waste heat into power. The material, a nanostructured bismuth antimony telluride, was developed by researchers at Boston College and MIT and realizes an increase in the alloy’s figure of merit—a dimensionless term calculated to indicate a material’s relative thermoelectric performance—from 1 to a peak of 1.4. (Earlier post.)

The GMZ material has a range of capabilities and applications, which includes the ability to optimize cooling in refrigerators and air conditioners and to generate power from heat sources such as automotive exhaust systems.

The GMZ process crushes the bismuth antimony telluride alloy into nanoparticles which are then heated and pressed back together. The grains and irregularities of the reconstituted alloy increased phonon scattering, radically transforming the thermoelectric performance by blocking heat flow while allowing the electrical flow. Phonons, a quantum mode of vibration, play a key role because they are the primary means by which heat conduction takes place in insulating solids. As a result, the material has the unique power to slow down heat flow while allowing electrical flow, thereby redirecting heat to drive electrons and energy rather than escape. The GMZ material delivers that ability to manage, direct and optimize energy on a new scale to the products that use it.

The low-cost approach is detailed in a recent issue of the journal Science.

The use of thermoelectric materials in clean technology has long been overlooked due to high costs and low efficiency, and we’ve overcome those challenges. We’re very excited about the efficiency gains our technology allows, and GMZ Energy is well-positioned to deliver a commercially available material today and help facilitate its use in everyday products.

—Mike Clary, CEO of GMZ Energy

In the near-term, the GMZ material will be used in cooling applications and to create products that consume less energy or capture energy that would otherwise be wasted. Longer term, it can provide more advanced solutions, such as cars partially powered by the exhaust system and solar thermal panels with heightened performance.

The GMZ material, currently in advanced testing stage at select US and Asia-Pacific manufacturers and being sampled by early customers, integrates into existing and new product designs for a rapid time-to-market. GMZ Energy is producing the material in pre-production volume at its multi-ton manufacturing facility. Previously, producing such a material was complex work with multiple steps of nanotechnology engineering. GMZ Energy pioneered a simple manufacturing process that makes the thermoelectric material cost-effectively and at high enough volume to be commercially viable.

GMZ Energy was formed by Gang Chen of MIT, Zhifeng Ren of Boston College and CEO Mike Clary to make the innovation market-ready and commercially available for a broad range of business and consumer applications.


  • Bed Poudel, et. al, , Science (20 March 2008) DOI: 10.1126/science.1156446

  • (John Fairbanks, DOE, DEER 2007)


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Can this increase Air Conditioner efficiency? I need a seer. :)


This improvement in performance is sure to increase the market for thermoelectric devices. So, will there be a supply or price concern with tellurium, a relatively rare material, or does the "nano" aspects obviate this concern.

The tellurium supply issue has been flagged as an issue for CdTe thin film solar cells, with a consumption of 60 metric tonnes per GW according to this 2007 NREL presentation.


Bismuth antimony telluride has been used for years in IR wafers with low efficiency. There is no mention of how much more efficient this is at turning heat into electricity.


No mention? If you looked at the previous article, it's an increase of 40%.


There was nothing mentioned in this release. If you are 1% efficient and now you are 1.4% efficient, I would not say that is a break through.


1 and 1.4 are not thermal efficiency numbers. I believe they pertain to "figure of merit" which is completely arbitrary term. There is some correlation between FOM and TE. I believe the maximum figure of merit for any TEC is 5.

Another poster (see previous article re: BiTe TECs) likened the order of merit of 1.4 to ~12% thermal-to-electric conversion efficiency.


BTW: at 12% thermal-to-electric efficiency, an alternator would no longer be necessary. A starter/motor could be hooked up to the crank. TECs that are fed with exhaust heat would power accessories, such as air conditioning, while having enough electricity left over to feed a little power to the starter/motor.


I would prefer that they state the numbers for efficiency in the announcement. How much heat generates how much electricity and how does that compare with previous developments.

If they are going to say that this can be used for cooling, tell us how. Will it generate 10khw to run a compressor from a diesel truck engine's heat?

It does seem like they have done something more to make this a reality, but just how much more is not clear.


They convert some of the heat into electricity, hence "cooling".


If you take the time to read the articles and look at the slide set, you come away not sure of what they have. They talk about CFCs and space probes and all sorts of things, but never get right down to something concrete.

From the slide set, it looks like they have taken a relatively inefficient technology and made it a bit less inefficient. Nowhere does it say that I could strap this to an exhaust header, muffler or catalytic converter and get killowatts of power out of it.



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it is nowhere as efficient as a compressor for cooling purposes.. but on the other hand it is using "free" energy.. if the cost is not massive I can see a use for it in the exhaust system and catalytic converter.. there is lots of power in those hot gasses.


I would agree, if it were cheaper and more efficient than the turbosteamer or turbo alternator, but without efficiency numbers it is hard to measure. BMW claims 15 hp from just an expander, I see no claims of 10kw here.

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