Graphene could lead to greener more fuel efficient cars in the future by converting heat into electricity.

Harvesting heat produced by a car’s engine which would otherwise be wasted and using it to recharge the car’s batteries or powering the air-conditioning system could be a significant feature in the next generation of hybrid cars.

The average car currently loses around 70% of energy generated through fuel consumption to heat. Utilising that lost energy requires a thermoelectric material which can generate an electrical current from the application of heat.

Thermoelectric materials convert heat to electricity or vice-versa, such as with refrigerators. The challenge with these devices is to use a material that is a good conductor of electricity but also dissipates heat well.

Currently, materials which exhibit these properties are often toxic and operate at very high temperatures — higher than that produced by car engines. By adding graphene, a new generation of composite materials could reduce carbon emissions globally from car use.

Scientists from The University of Manchester working with European Thermodynamics Ltd have increased the potential for low cost thermoelectric materials to be used more widely in the automotive industry.

The team, led by Prof Ian Kinloch, Prof Robert Freer and Yue Lin, added a small amount of graphene to strontium titanium oxide.

The resulting composite was able to convert heat which would otherwise be lost as waste into an electric current over a broad temperature range, going down to room temperature.

Prof Freer said: “Current oxide thermoelectric materials…

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