According to data released by Alphabet Energy, the thermoelectric material tetrahedrite costs about $4 per kilogram, whereas other thermoelectric materials cost between $24 and $146 per kilogram. For now, the company is focusing on stand-alone generators, but founder and CEO Matt Scullin says it’s currently working with car companies to see if tetrahedrite can be used to harness heat from car exhaust.
Scullin says that other thermoelectric materials have typically achieved about 2.5 percent efficiency in cars, but tetrahedrite could reach 5 to 10 percent efficiency. “These aren’t incremental improvements,” he says. “They’re really huge improvements that make really significant impact.”
Ali Shakouri, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University, says that tetrahedrite has promise because it doesn’t require the expensive up-front manufacturing that other materials require. “I think that’s kind of quite unique in thermoelectrics,” Shakouri says. “People look at so many materials, but the starting point has always been pure materials that they synthesize together.”
California-based Alphabet Energy plans to begin selling a new type of material that can turn heat into electricity.