Tony Varghese, a graduate student in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering received a best poster award and cash prize at the 36th annual International Conference on Thermoelectrics (ICT 2017) in Pasadena, CA. The conference featured 338 poster presentations from all over the world and gathered approximately 1500 individuals for a cutting-edge research exchange on thermoelectric technologies.
Additive Manufacturing of Flexible Thermoelectric Devices – Creating a Competitive Energy Conversion Technology
Tony’s research focuses on finding ways to manufacture high performing, cost effective, flexible thermoelectric generators that can supply power for a variety of sensors. The synthesis and optimization of inorganic nano-ink for screen printing processes is the catalyst for making this happen. This technology can be used to recover waste heat energy and directly convert it into electrical energy, with no moving parts involved. This energy can be as small as the amount of heat produced by natural biological processes in the human body to as large as the heat energy released from nuclear power plants. Tony changes the electronic and thermal transport properties of thermoelectric material in the ink by using different additives to achieve optimal performance. An aerosol jet printer and high energy pulsed light sintering are used for roll-to- roll manufacturing of flexible thermoelectric devices from these inks. The result is the potential to create real-world solutions to everyday issues. One example is a self-powered sensor that can monitor human vital signs and wirelessly transmit data to an interface device. Used in this manner, self-powered sensors can continually monitor critical life signs.
Tony’s research may provide a staggering 90% decrease in the manufacturing cost of thermoelectric materials. “My ultimate goal is to establish a low cost, high performing additive manufacturing process for flexible thermoelectric devices. A cost reduction along with increased performance would make thermoelectric material very competitive as an energy conversion technology,” says Varghese.
Collaboration Facilitates Success
As a graduate student, Tony has learned that collaboration is key. Participating in the International Conference on Thermoelectrics allowed him to establish new contacts as well as put faces to the names he recognized from reading journal papers. “It was interesting to learn there are other people working on the same research. Talking with them helped me find solutions for some of the research challenges I currently face. Some researchers were even willing to give ideas that may improve my process so I can obtain better results,”said Tony. “Conference participation also helped to establish a couple of new collaborations with other universities.”
Tony collaborates with University of Houston Professor Zhifeng Ren’s research group and Washington State University Professor Rahul Panat’s research group for manufactured nanopowders and intense light pulse sintering. He also collaborates with ThermoAura, a nanomaterials and clean energy company that manufactures thermoelectric nanocrystals, which Tony uses for his research.
About Tony Varghese
Tony received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Mahatma Gandhi University in India and a master of science in nanoscience and technology from the National Institute of Technology in India. He spent a year working as a research student in the Polymer and Special Chemical Division at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO,) where his primary focus was synthesis of graphene and graphene polymer nanocomposites for satellite applications. Tony was admitted to Boise State in 2014 and is currently conducting research in the Boise State Advanced Nanomaterial and Manufacturing Laboratory (ANML) with Dr. David Estrada. He also works closely with his co-advisor Dr. Yanliang Zhang from the University of Notre Dame.
Tony’s International Conference on Thermoelectrics best poster award was an “aha” moment. He realized that information exchange is a vital part of advancing research. Tony gained a new appreciation for discussing his research while finding out about other researchers’ techniques at the same time. While presenting at ICT was his first time speaking in front of a large audience, Tony also received a best poster nomination at the Materials Research Society Spring Meeting in April 2017. Expertise in his field of research allows Tony to present his findings with confidence. Tony plans to further develop his research, which he will present at upcoming professional conferences.