About 65% of energy in the world is wasted as heat and this heat is released into the environment, becoming one of the key players of global warming

Indian Institute of Technology Mandi researchers is developing thermoelectric materials that can efficiently convert heat into electricity. While solar power has received a lot of attention, other alternative sources are equally promising, even if less known.  Generating power from heat, for example, is attractive as there is a lot of heat that is generated through human activities in industry, power plants, home appliances, and automobiles where most of this heat is lost. 

A research team led by Dr. Ajay Soni, Associate Professor (Physics), School of Basic Sciences, IIT Mandi, is studying materials that can convert heat into electricity. The team has been prolific in its research on thermoelectric materials and many of its papers have been published in reputed peer-review international journals including Applied Physics Letters, Physical Review B, Journal of Alloys and Compounds, ACS Applied Energy Materials and RSC Journal of Materials Chemistry and Energy Environmental Sciences. 

(1st from Right) Dr. Ajay Soni, Associate Professor, School of Basic Sciences, IIT Mandi, along with his research scholars

There has been considerable interest in recent years in the development of technologies that can dynamically harvest energy from the environment and convert it to electricity; such futuristic technologies consider Sun, heat and mechanical energy as sustainable sources of energy.

Explaining his research, Dr. Ajay Soni said, “Thermoelectric materials work on the principle of Seebeck effect, in which electricity is generated due to temperature differences across the junction of two materials. A typical thermoelectric material must have the trifecta properties of high thermoelectric power and electrical conductivity, low thermal conductivity with a capability of maintaining a temperature gradient. This combination of properties is hard to come by and a few semiconducting materials must be tweaked further for good thermoelectric efficiency.”

In the Western world, many automobile companies, including Volkswagen, VOLVO, Ford and BMW are developing thermoelectric waste heat recovery systems that promise 3% – 5% improvements in fuel economy. Other potential applications for thermoelectric energy harvesting include powering consumer devices and electronics, aviation and even space applications. Realizing the potential of thermoelectric power generation hinges on materials improvement and research such as those conducted by the IIT Mandi research team can contribute in this regard.

Dr. Ajay Soni’s team works on a range of such materials and studies their efficiency through experimental and numerical simulation studies. Dr. Ajay Soni studies semiconductors such as bismuth telluride, tin telluride, and silver-containing crystalline superionic argyrodites and spikes them with various elements in tiny quantities to improve the ‘thermoelectric figure-of-merit,’ a metric that indicates the thermoelectric efficiency of the materials system. Ideally, a figure-of-merit value of 3 – 4 can convert more than 40% of waste heat to useful electrical energy, but in reality, it has hovered around 1, insufficient for practical application.

Dr. Ajay Soni’s research group has observed novel soft phonon modes which are demonstrating the inherent crystalline anharmonicity in the materials, thus giving better thermoelectric performances with a high figure of merit in the range of 1-1.6 for various materials. The outcome gives scope for further explorations and improvements. He mentioned that the research work is extensively funded by IIT Mandi, Department of Science and Technology – Science and Engineering Research Board (DST – SERB) and Department of Atomic Energy – Board of Research in Nuclear Sciences (DAE – BRNS), India.

About 70% of energy in the world is wasted as heat and this heat is released into the environment, becoming one of the key players of global warming. The trapping and conversion of waste heat into electricity can serve the dual purpose of energy-self-sufficiency and environmental preservation.

About IIT Mandi: Since the first batch of 97 students joined in July 2009, IIT Mandi has grown to host 1,300 students including 300 PhD, 46 MS research scholars, besides 110 Faculty and 150 staff. IIT Mandi’s fully residential campus in Kamand boasts 1.2 lakh sq.m. of completed buildings with 95,000 sqm currently under construction. IIT Mandi has been ranked No. 20 in the Engineering Institutions Category in the  India Rankings 2019 released by National Institutional Ranking Framework, Ministry of Human Resources Development, Govt. of India.  In the Outreach and Inclusivity metric of NIRF, IIT Mandi is 1st among all 23 IITs.

Since 2010, IIT Mandi’s faculty has bagged nearly 180 projects worth more than Rs. 85 crore. A notable mention is the Advanced Materials Research Centre (AMRC), created in 2013 with an investment of about Rs. 50 crore, housing advanced instruments for the characterization of materials. The Institute also hosts a ‘Class 100 Clean Room’ facility, a world-class research center that is first-of-its-kind in India. In 2017, the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, selected IIT Mandi to lead the prestigious Rs. 10 crore FarmerZoneTM Project.

The unique, project-oriented B.Tech curriculum is centered around its 4-year long Design and Innovation stream. It is poised to become the first IIT to offer a B.Tech in Data Science & Engineering. There are many active MoUs with TU9 in Germany since May 2011. About 25 students from WPI, U.S., have been visiting IIT Mandi every year since 2013, along with 2 WPI faculty.

Launched in 2016, IIT Mandi’s Catalyst is the first Technology Business Incubator in Himachal Pradesh.  EWOK (Enabling Women of Kamand Valley) is another innovative program run by IIT Mandi, which focuses on imparting Skills training to rural women to enable them to start the village-scale business.