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UVA Engineering researching thermoelectric materials to improve efficiency of jet engines

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Engineering are seeking to improve the efficiency of jet engines by identifying and developing thermoelectric materials that can harness excess energy.

Patrick Hopkins, professor and a director of Ph.D. studies in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UVA, is leading the work. Hopkins is a mechanical engineer as a specialist in microscale heat transfer and high-temperature materials science. He identified the potential of the voltage, which comes from a temperature change in the engines’ coating material, to provide the increased efficiency.

We soon discovered that, if we produced a coating that could not only survive in the hot environment but also produce current, we could harvest electricity that is then used to support the aircraft. The efficiencies that come from harvesting even an incremental amount of energy can lead to millions of dollars in savings for our airline industry.

—Patrick Hopkins

Rolls-Royce, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of jet engines, has signed on as a critical partner in this endeavor. UVA is one of only three universities in North America that participate in the Rolls-Royce University Technology Center Network.

Hopkins teamed up with Dr. Ann Bolcavage, a Rolls-Royce Engineering Associate Fellow in Coating Materials, to translate the idea to reality. The team went on to secure a nearly $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) program to explore this idea.

This NSF program, which focuses on promoting collaborations between academic research institutions and industry that enable technological breakthroughs and address critical needs, presents opportunities for companies to explore transformative ideas that they would not normally pursue.

Hopkins and Bolcavage are setting out to design a material with poor thermal conductivity that creates this reserve of energy. In exploring thermal barrier coatings in great detail, they also hope to develop coatings that are less expensive to produce—another area of savings for the industry.

Hopkins’ recent research on thermal properties of novel coatings is published in Advanced Materials.


  • Jeffrey L. Braun, Christina M. Rost, Mina Lim, Ashutosh Giri, David H. Olson, George N. Kotsonis, Gheorghe Stan, Donald W. Brenner, Jon‐Paul Maria, Patrick E. Hopkins (2018) “Charge‐Induced Disorder Controls the Thermal Conductivity of Entropy‐Stabilized Oxides” Advanced Materials doi: 10.1002/adma.201805004



More than 70% of the energy goes out as heat,
gas turbines have good power to weight but not efficiency.

More than 70% of the energy goes out as heat

GE LMS100 heat rate is specified as 7776 BTU/kWh.  That's 43.9% efficiency, open-cycle; less than 57% is being exhausted as heat.  (Wish I could find the specs on the LPC outlet T/P and HPC inlet T/P, I'd love to know just how much heat is available at the intercooler and at what temperature.)

I like the twist of this concept.  Instead of just insulating to reduce heat losses, it exploits them and extracts work from them.

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