How wine merchants could lead to greener energy

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Wine merchants and vineyard owners have spent centuries perfecting their preferred blend of grapes, fermentation and storage conditions, to make sure fine wines reach the consumer in the best possible condition.

In some cases, this means using some fairly exotic materials - such as 'thermoelectrics', which convert heat directly into electricity, and are present in many wine fridges.

Although they have benefits in this application, as well as uses onboard spacecraft, thermoelectrics' rarity and relatively low efficiency have meant they are not more widely used.

But now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology and University of Tokyo believe they have found a better way to identify thermoelectrics, making it potentially easier to use them in future.

In particular, they found that fairly simple modelling of the electronic structure of a material - known as the 'rigid band approximation' - actually works better than more complex 'supercell' approaches.

This could finally mean scientists can identify thermoelectric materials faster and more easily, making these exotic alloys - used by wine merchants since the 1950s - more widely available for use in green energy applications elsewhere.