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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne chemist receives Eni Award for work with thermoelectrics

Chemist Mercouri Kanatzidis of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has received the Eni Award for Renewable Energy.

Kanatzidis, senior scientist in Argonne’s Materials Science Division and professor in the department of chemistry at Northwestern University, was given the award for his work with thermoelectrics. His research focuses on the development of new solid state semiconductors that can recover waste heat and convert it directly into electricity.

The award comes from Eni, an Italian oil and gas company. Established in 2007, the award aims to encourage better use of energy sources and increase environmental research.

Kanatzidis said he thinks it is important that his area of study was recognized as being related to renewable energy.

Currently, he is collaborating with scientists and experts in a variety of fields to develop new materials that can more efficiently convert heat to electrical power.

Kanatzidis and the researchers found that nanostructuring” their materials—adding nanocrystals with specific compositions—results in low thermal conductivity and, therefore, a more efficient energy-converting semiconductor. The materials Kanatzidis and his colleagues have discovered raise efficiency more than 100 percent, he said.

According to Materials Science division director and Argonne Distinguished Fellow Michael Norman, Kanatzidis’ discovery of new materials has applications in many energy-related fields.

Motor vehicles, for example, burn gas, but 75 percent of the energy created is sent out the exhaust pipe; only the remaining 25 percent powers the car from point A to point B.

If we can take some of that wasted heat and use it to operate the vehicle, and then do this on a massive scale, we can save enormous amounts of fuel and at the same time produce less carbon-dioxide,” Kanatzidis said.

It’s not only about making the existing systems more efficient but also creating new types of electricity-generating machines,” he said.

Norman said that while Kanatzidis’ real interest is in researching new materials, he is also involved in a number of other programs and centers, including the Argonne Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center, the Center for Emergent Superconductivity and a program with the DOE-Basic Energy Sciences for discovering new superconductors.

Kanatzidis said he is deeply honored to receive the award.

I had to read the email several times to make sure it wasn’t a joke or spam,” Kanatzidis said. Then I thought, Oh, wow!’”

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