A new international doctoral programme in materials science - coordinated by Heidelberg University - is receiving approximately four million euros in funding from the European Union. The project will focus on the development of organic materials suitable for converting unused waste heat into electricity. 15 young scientists will conduct research on this topic and work on their PhD projects. Besides Ruperto Carola, other participants in the four-year interdisciplinary programme entitled "Hybrid and ORgAnic ThermoElectricSystems" (HORATES) include universities, research centres, and companies in Italy, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, and France. Martijn Kemerink of the Centre for Advanced Materials, the materials science research centre of Heidelberg University, is the programme’s spokesperson.
Waste heat from technical devices and even heat given off by living beings is a ubiquitous source of energy and can be harnessed to produce electricity. One possible application is powering small sensors. "We intend to use a mechanism known as the thermoelectric effect to convert the energy, whereby a difference in temperature can be transformed into electrical energy," explains Prof. Kemerink. Until now, inorganic materials have been used for converting and storing energy. Under the direction of the Heidelberg physicist, the international PhD programme will concentrate on developing organic materials, whose greater mechanical flexibility and low thermal conductivity make them potentially more efficient performers than conventional inorganic materials.
According to Prof. Kemerink, the current state of technology in organic thermoelectrics is not yet far enough for market-ready applications. "For thermoelectric generators, we will explore the properties and processing of newly developed organic materials and then use them in demonstrator devices." The doctoral candidates will work through the full chain of organic thermoelectrics, from molecular design and chemical synthesis to device development, including theoretical modelling. The structured programme for 15 doctoral candidates, two of whom will be conducting research at Heidelberg University, is organised under the auspices of an "Innovative Training Network" with scientific and practical experts serving as advisors. Work is scheduled to start in early 2021. Funding is being provided within the framework of "Horizon 2020", the research and innovation funding programme of the European Union.