Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

Woodruff School Graduate Women (WSGW) Tech Talks


The Feasibility of Thermoelectric Power Generation: Linking Materials, Systems, and Cost


Dr. Saniya LeBlanc


Stanford University


Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 11:00:00 AM


MARC Building, Room 101


Adrienne LIttle


Worldwide energy demand is projected to increase 40% by 2035. Thermoelectric power generators could be a rapid, powerful way to meet the increased need for energy by converting wasted heat energy into useful electrical energy. However, inter-disciplinary factors determining the feasibility of widespread thermoelectric power generation systems have been minimally explored. This work connects materials and manufacturing costs, material properties, and system level design to identify the factors necessary for successful thermoelectric generators. First, an economic analysis links materials and manufacturing costs with material performance to produce a thermoelectric device cost-performance metric. Current and potential thermoelectric materials are evaluated using this metric to determine which materials are promising candidates. Next, thermoelectric energy system modeling demonstrates the potential for increased energy efficiency in existing energy systems. Thermoelectric waste heat recovery is simulated for three applications: a home water heater, an automotive exhaust system, and an industrial furnace. The impact of system and material parameters on power generation efficiency is determined. Engineering at the nanoscale produces materials with combinations of properties absent in the natural world, enabling tunable and enhanced energy conversion in these systems. In particular, zinc oxide nanowires may offer improved thermoelectric energy conversion. Finally, characterization of electrothermal transport phenomena in single zinc oxide nanowire structures demonstrates the impact of nanowire contacts on the realization of functional nanowire materials.


Saniya LeBlanc is a research scientist at Alphabet Energy, a thermoelectrics startup company, where she creates research, development, and manufacturing characterization solutions for thermoelectric technologies and evaluates the potential of new materials. Her research goals are to utilize nano- and micro-structuring techniques to improve the efficiency of energy systems. Saniya LeBlanc obtained a PhD in mechanical engineering at Stanford's Nano/Microscale Heat Transfer Laboratory. She earned her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering with highest honors from Georgia Institute of Technology. As a Churchill Scholar, she received a Master's of Philosophy in Engineering from Cambridge University where her thesis was in development of a microscale bimorph actuator. With a strong commitment to educational equity, she served in Teach For America as a high school math and physics teacher in Washington, D.C. She is also co-founder of the American Society for Engineering Education's Stanford chapter. Saniya has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a Sandia National Labs fellowship, and Stanford's Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence fellowship.


Refreshments will be served.