Limits of Thermal Processes and their Implications on Efficient Energy Utilization

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About 90 percent of the world’s energy use involves thermal processes – thermal engines to generate mechanical power; heating and cooling in buildings; heating involved in manufacturing of steel, cement, glass, petrochemicals etc. To identify opportunities for improving current technologies or developing entirely new ones, it is important to identify how far we are from the limits of both thermodynamics and heat transfer, and what can we possibly do to approach them. In this talk, I will first discuss a few examples of such limits - limits of phase change heat transfer and of cooling systems – and discuss how we are trying to approach them. I will then pick one example – thermoelectric cooling and power generation – and dig deep into the science to understand the limits of heat and charge transport, and discuss our attempts to exploit the science to design new materials that approach these limits.


Arun Majumdar Dr. Arun Majumdar received a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) in 1985, and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989, for research conducted in the laboratory of Professor Chang-Lin Tien. After being on the faculty of Arizona State University (1989-92) and University of California, Santa Barbara (1992-96), he began his faculty appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where he held the Almy and Agnes Maynard Chair Professorship in the College of Engineering till October 2009. In addition to his faculty appointment, he was the Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Environment at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Majumdar has served in an advisory role to many federal agencies including the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. He also served on the editorial board of Nano Letters, International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, and Nano/Microscale Thermophysical Engineering. Dr. Majumdar has received many awards, and was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering in 2005. In October 2009, President Obama appointed him as the first Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to create an organization within the Department of Energy dedicated exclusively to developing high-risk/high-reward disruptive energy technologies.

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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Arunava Majumdar (2010), "Limits of Thermal Processes and their Implications on Efficient Energy Utilization,"

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Burton Morgan 121, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN