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Solar Thermal Energy Capture

SPECIFIC is researching state of the art of solar thermal energy capture by installing technologies that use different methods of heat abstraction from the environment. Our research is based on direct and diffuse solar radiation (separate and combined), unique air source thermal capture and the conversion of the captured energy into usable forms for our connected technologies.

To this end the project will benefit from a significant solar array installation at the SHED in Margam, which will allow the capture and monitoring of solar energy via multiple absorber technologies in multiple installation elevations. With information about the performance of each technology in different environmental conditions, the team can develop a prediction tool for energy delivery, which will inform a Building’s Management System. The building management system can then define how a building uses the expected heat energy, whether in sensible, latent or thermochemical heat storage or directly in immediate space heating.

Understanding the mechanism by which the renewable solar energy can be modified into each of these forms, and the associated efficiency of the conversion can further allow SPECIFIC to understand the real value of the captured energy to maximise the financial performance as well as the functional and thermal performance.

Research Lead: Dr Justin Searle

Thermoelectric Generation (TEG)

Thermoelectric generators are devices that exploit the Seebeck effect – a phenomenon in which temperature difference produces a voltage difference between two electrical conductors – to generate an electrical current.

Around one sixth of energy generated for use in industry is emitted as waste heat, of which nearly 15% is economically viable for recovery, thus providing a commercial as well as environmental impetus for thermal energy capture via recovering industrial waste heat. This, combined with the potential for domestic waste heat recovery and even the micro-harvesting of human body heat to power personal consumer electronics, means that large area, flexible and printed thermoelectric generators could contribute significantly to energy efficiency and carbon reduction targets.

Until recently the majority of thermoelectric materials studied with promising ZT values (a measure of efficiency of heat conversion) have been based on alloys of elements like Bismuth, Tellurium, Antimony and Lead, some of which are toxic and/or rare. Researchers are increasingly turning their attention to organic materials as they are abundant, light-weight, flexible, solution-processable and low-cost, making large area printed devices a possibility. This makes waste thermal energy capture from large scale industry possible, as well as more bespoke applications such as wearable TEGs to power consumer electronics. In addition, two properties of organic conductors and semiconductors make them extremely promising as efficient thermoelectric materials: firstly, the thermal conductivity of organic materials is low (< 1 W m-1 K-1); secondly, organic conductors such as PEDOT:PSS are now achieving metal-like conductivity through process modification and doping. This means that organic materials could potential achieve high ZT values.

Thermoelectric material research at SPECIFIC involves organic, inorganic and hybrid materials that can be printed or solution processed. The ultimate goal is to manufacture building scale thermoelectric systems to utilise waste heat from buildings and industrial structures.

Research Lead: Dr Matt Carnie

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