Clean air and electricity
We’re all aware of the health dangers of air pollution in towns and cities across the planet – but what about indoor air pollution? In India, around 482,000 people a year die from breathing dirty air in their homes caused by chulhas – solid fuel cooking stoves which burn wood, crop waste or dried animal dung. Women and young children are the worst affected, because they tend to spend more time near the stove.
Chulhas operate at high temperatures, generating a lot of wasted heat. A team of chemists from Reading led by Professor Anthony Powell will investigate using thermoelectric (TE) devices to convert this excess heat into electricity. By using the electricity to power external fans, the stoves can be made cleaner and safer by burning more efficiently.
What’s more, the devices could also generate enough power to bring light and mobile phone charging capability to the 100 million people living in remote rural communities who currently have no access to electricity.
Working with two leading thermoelectric laboratories in the UK and India, the Reading team plan to develop new high performance semiconductors that can be incorporated into the TE devices.
Although conversion of waste heat from the stoves to electrical power has been shown to be possible, it requires compounds of scarce and expensive elements such as tellurium. With their innovative project, the researchers will find a more affordable and sustainable solution: they will develop TE materials using minerals, such as chalcopyrite and bornite, which are cheap and abundantly available in the copper belt region of India.
India’s own natural resources could therefore be used to solve a problem affecting some of the country’s most disadvantaged people. Research capacity will be built up by upskilling both local people and the researchers themselves, which will also boost economic growth. Companies in both the supply chain and manufacturing sector in India also stand to benefit from the project, which started in April 2020 and runs for two years.