The 2017 Innovation of the Year award goes to Dr. Donald Morelli, Chair of Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, for his work in thermoelectric technology.
Morelli’s work in thermoelectric materials converts waste heat sources into electricity. While they have been studied for decades, only a few have reached commercial applications because of their low efficiency, high cost, and use of rare elements. This process is the first step in creating a low-cost, widespread technology for converting heat to electricity.
“In our search for efficient, abundant, and nontoxic thermoelectric materials, we were led to the tetrahedrites, a family of compounds of commonly occurring elements, by theoretical calculations of their properties,” said Morelli. “The fact that they are naturally-occurring minerals is an added bonus—one can either synthesize them in the lab, or use the natural mineral itself as a source thermoelectric material. The compounds are especially interesting because they combine very low thermal conductivity with unusually good electronic properties.”
Morelli is a professor of materials science and served as director of the MSU/DOE Energy Frontier Research Center on Revolutionary Materials for Solid State Energy Conversion from 2008 until 2016.