Sunlight is an inexhaustible, distributed, egalitarian energy source and yet solar power accounts for only 0.15% of the energy produced in the United States, despite estimates that only 0.5% of the U.S. mainland area is needed to generate all U.S. electricity needs. Fully 85% of our energy supply derives from fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels for energy is unsustainable, because it relies on finite resources, exacerbating the buildup of greenhouse gases responsible for increases in global average temperatures since the mid-1900’s. The National Science Board has identified the conversion to sustainable energy as a national “critical grand challenge.” Efforts must include the residential and commercial sectors; combined, they account for 39% of both U.S. energy consumed and CO2 emissions, more than any other sector. Small-scale, site-based solar power production has considerable potential as a sustainable energy source for these sectors; sunlight is inherently distributed and on-site generation eliminates electrical transmission losses. Under these circumstances, photovoltaic (PV) or thermoelectric (TE) generation of electricity can be highly desirable. PV-based electrical energy conversion becomes less efficient with increasing temperature, a common problem with PV solar panels due to waste heat buildup and solar heating of the panels, leading to increased interest in thermoelectrics. Theoretical analysis on cost/efficiency trade-offs for small-scale solar-powered photo-thermo-electric cogenerating system based on thermoelectric effect suggests an overall energy conversion efficiency approaching 80%. However, critical gaps still remain that prevent the scalable, practical manufacture and wide deployment of small-scale photo-thermo-electric cogenerating systems. First, we lack TE materials and devices made from sustainable, earth-abundant, economical, and non-toxic materials and adapted to high temperature. Second, we lack economical and efficient optics and appropriate surface structures for solar collectors. Third, we lack scalable energy storage devices for coupling to the cogenerating system, capable of providing both electricity and hot water while there is no sunlight and sustainably produced from abundant and non-toxic materials.

        Our group addresses these challenges by the investigation of broadly-defined nanostructured materials. Our highly interdisciplinary research program includes the design, synthesis, characterization, and assembly of nanostructured materials, elucidation of the fundamental electronic, optical, and other physical properties of these materials, and exploration of new science and applications towards the highly-efficient harvest, storage, and conversion of solar and thermal energy.


Yue Wu

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering

FRNY 1148 Office

(765) 494-6028 Phone

(765) 494-0805 FAX

Secretary: Karen Heide

We welcome the incoming graduate students and undergraduate students, especially those from underrepresented minority groups, to explore our interdisciplinary research by joining us every Wednesday for our group meeting. Our lab is located at Room 3160, Forney Hall of Chemical Engineering, 480 Stadium Mall Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907.

research highlights

Our research works have been highlighted by many public medias and some of them are listed below:

An interview with Prof. Yue Wu by WVXU, the Cincinnati NPR station on June 17th, 2012.

Click here to listen

research sponsor