IFW Dresden, building, courtyard

ERC Starting Grant for Ran He

The "TENTATION" project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) with 1.5 million euros.

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded an ERC Starting Grant to Dr. Ran He from the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden. The 1.5 million euro funded project TENTATION - Tellurium-free Thermoelectric Technology for near-room-temperature applications - focuses on developing thermoelectric modules of a new generation of thermoelectric modules that surpass the performance of existing technology without the use of the rare element tellurium.

Thermoelectrics can do both: generate electricity and regulate temperature

The thermoelectric effect has been known and used for over 200 years. The principle of operation is delightfully simple: two unequal temperature levels generate a voltage that enables a current to flow, and vice versa. On this basis, a thermoelectric generator can convert thermal energy into sustainable electrical energy in a comparatively uncomplicated way. Conversely, the effect can be used to regulate temperature. Thus, thermoelectric technology (TE) holds great potential in the field of cooling and power generation for various applications. To exploit this potential, modules must be developed that operate efficiently in a moderate temperature range of -70 to 300˚Celsius. Currently, almost all thermoelectric materials for commercially available modules are based on bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3) because of its unprecedented performance of around 6 percent. The problem: The element tellurium is an extremely rare resource. With an occurrence of less than 0.001 parts per million (ppm) in the earth's crust, it is the limiting factor for the development of thermoelectric technology, which has remained stagnant for more than half a century.

New approach: With magnesium to higher performance.

With the ERC project TENTATION, Dr. Ran He from the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden intends to break this standstill. What is required is a new approach combined with the necessary fundamental knowledge and technical opportunities. Innovative, available, and sustainable materials are required that nevertheless achieve appreciable electrical efficiency. To achieve this, scientist He wants to develop a new type of TE model whose basis is not tellurium but the abundant element magnesium. In the project, which will be funded with 1.5 million in the coming years, basic transport properties will be explored, innovative synthesis methods of the new thermoelectric materials will be developed, and high-performance modules will be optimized at room temperature. In addition, the setup of prototypes is planned.

The efficiencies of thermoelectrics are low in comparison with other methods of energy generation, achieving a maximum of 6 percent to date. The advantages of the technology are the possibility of combining power generation and cooling, the extraordinary device stability, and the associated maintenance-free operation. And finally, thermoelectrics is an emission-free technology. It is therefore worthwhile not to let development stagnate any longer here. The aim of the project is now not only to achieve the previous efficiency with the new materials but to surpass it significantly. "I'm aiming for a conversion efficiency of about 12% in the temperature range of 30 to 300 °Celsius," says Ran He, looking forward to the coming years. He has a big ambition, but if he succeeds in achieving this project goal, it will pave the way for sustainable energy generation and temperature regulation with a wide range of applications based on a long-established principle.

About the person Dr. Ran He

Ran He studied materials physics at the Northeastern University (China). Afterwards, he was a PhD student at Boston College and completed his PhD at the University of Houston in 2016. In 2017, he moved to the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research as a postdoctoral fellow. In 2018, his article was honored by the journal "Advanced Materials Technologies" as one of the best in the editor's selection. He has been granted DFG funding of nearly 300,000 euros in 2021 for his research project "Reduced Lattice Thermal Conductivity for Improved Thermoelectric Performance through Nonequilibrium Processing." Dr. Ran He has led the research group "Nanostructured Thermoelectrics" at IFW Dresden since 2020.

About the European Research Council (ERC)

The European Research Council is a European funding organization for visionary fundamental research. Scientific excellence is the key criterion. The ERC Starting Grant supports outstanding young scientists who are still at the beginning of an independent career. With 8 Starting Grantees, 4 Consolidator Grantees and 2 Advanced Grantees, IFW Dresden is a very successful institution in funding scientific excellence in materials research.

More information: https://erc.europa.eu/news-events/news/erc-2023-starting-grants-results

Dr. Ran He
Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden
E-Mail: r.he[at]ifw-dresden.de
Phone: +49 351 4659 337

Contact PR
Patricia Bäuchler
Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden
E-Mail: p.baeuchler[at]ifw-dresden.de
+49 351 4659 249


Funded by the European Union (ERC, TENTATION, project number101116340). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

Ran He in the first floor of IFW Dresden

Dr. Ran He, IFW Dresden