Mathieu Francoeur, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, has received a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation. This $400,017 grant is for a project titled “Enhanced Power Generation in a Nanoscale-Gap Thermophotovoltaic Device due to Radiative Heat Transfer Exceeding the Blackbody Limit.”

Approximately 58 percent of the energy consumed annually in the United States is lost to heat. Thermophotovoltaic power generators can contribute significantly to capturing large amounts of waste heat by directly converting thermal energy to electrical energy in combustion chambers, photovoltaic cells and personal computers.

“This NSF CAREER award will allow us to demonstrate that power generation in a nanoscale-gap thermophotovoltaic device can be enhanced by a factor of 20 to 30, compared to conventional thermophotovoltaic systems, due to radiation heat transfer exceeding the blackbody limit,” says Francoeur. “This project is an important step toward the development of miniature waste heat recovery devices that could be used in personal computers and cell phones.”

This grant will be also be used to develop a new elective course at the University of Utah for undergraduate and graduate students interested in near-field thermal radiation and its application to power generation. The course content will also be made freely available to the general public, and a direct thermal-to-electrical energy conversion demo-kit will be presented at the Utah Science Olympiad for use in high schools.