Natural Mineral Tetrahedrite as a Direct Source of Thermoelectric Materials




Thermoelectric (TE) materials make possible the direct conversion of waste heat into electricity, potentially improving energy efficiency or providing an alternative energy source. TE materials experience the thermoelectric effect, whereby voltage is generated when there is a temperature gradient within the material. Since 1995, advances in engineering have generated materials with marked improvement in their ability to convert heat into electricity. Unfortunately, many of the materials developed are not suitable for large scale applications, due to complex synthesis requirements, and expensive or toxic starting materials. Additionally, supply for many of these expensive elements and compounds may be limited when they have competing applications. Increasing the implementation of TE devices requires new TE materials that are inexpensive, environmentally-friendly, easy to synthesize, and abundantly available.


Description of Technology


Michigan State University has developed an inexpensive production process for a class of thermoelectric compounds based on the natural tetrahedrite structure. Tetrahedrite is a common compound, and is often discarded as waste during silver mining. From this raw state, the tetrahedrite is milled into a powder, which is then doped to increase resistivity, increasing the Seebeck coefficient while lowering thermal conductivity. The powder is then pressed into a brick or puck, which can be cut to the final configuration. The end product is a high performance thermoelectric material that functions as well as comparable (and much more expensive) materials.


Key Benefits

  • High performance: equivalent to some of the most advanced materials used in the industry.
  • Ease of production: these tetrahedrite pucks can be rapidly produced.
  • Inexpensive: this method uses common waste products as a base material instead of expensive, purified elements that require costly manufacturing processes.
  • Safe: this technology requires no toxic reagents or long annealing processes.




Energy scavenging (e.g. automotive, power generation, etc.), energy generation, alternative energy source.


Patent Status


This technology is patent pending.




Donald Morelli, Xu Lu


Tech ID




Patent Information:


For Information, Contact:

Raymond Devito
Technology Manager
Michigan State University
Donald Morelli
Xu Lu