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Engineering team ahead of the game on green technology

24 February 2009

Professor Mike Rowe alongside the demonstration Volkswagen in BerlinProfessor Mike Rowe alongside the demonstration Volkswagen in Berlin

A pioneering fuel efficiency technology first developed at the School of Engineering ten years ago could soon be used by vehicle manufacturers across the world.

More than 250 representatives from automobile manufacturers, to scientists and engineers from all the major European car companies, recently attended a conference -Thermoelectrics – a Chance for the Automobile Industry - in Berlin at which Volkswagen unveiled Europe’s first demonstration family-sized car fitted with a thermoelectric generator.

The first ever thermoelectric generator powered by a flow of hot water and producing 100W(e) was developed and constructed in Cardiff by the School of Engineering team, shipped to Japan, and displayed at the United Nations Kyoto Conference on Global warming in 1997.

The same thermoelectric materials and technology is now being used in the car application with the flow of liquid being replaced with a flow of hot exhaust gases, with the generator fitted on the underside of the car.

Additional electrical power provided by the thermoelectric generator serves to meet around 20 per cent of the car’s electrical requirement, reducing the engine’s mechanical load and resulting in a reduction in fuel consumption.

Professor Mike Rowe, Honorary Professor in the School of Engineering was a special guest of the conference in recognition of his long-standing research into thermoelectrics and in particular waste heat recovery – the technology used in the demonstration vehicle.

Professor Rowe, who is also director of the Cardiff NEDO Centre for Electronic Energy Conversion said: "The advanced thermoelectric material research undertaken at the School of Engineering and its application in waste heat recovery is at the forefront of this technology. Although the UK no longer has such a strong car manufacturing base, opportunities exist and are being pursued to collaborate with European partners in further developing this exiting application of thermoelectrics.

"This has been an exciting development for the thermoelectric group here and will be for the motor industry as a whole. This is the first commercial motor vehicle using this technology and we could see its widespread use across the worldwide motor industry in the not too distant future."

A number of leading vehicle manufacturers worldwide, including General Motors and BMW are pushing ahead with the use of thermoelectrics to improve automobile fuel economy for a wide range of domestic and commercial uses.

Professor Rowe has also been invited to serve as a member on the US Department of Energy Office of Science for Energy Frontiers Research Centres review panel. The role of the Energy Frontier Research Centres is to accelerate the rate of scientific breakthroughs needed to create advanced energy technologies for the 21st century.

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