Prof. Roy Vellaisamy, newly appointed Chair Professor of Intelligent Systems at Hong Kong Metropolitan University’s (HKMU) School of Science and Technology (S&T), has pioneered an enhanced design for thermoelectric generators (TEGs), which can durably and efficiently convert industrial waste heat into usable electricity. The enhanced design may directly increase the efficiency of heat-to-electricity conversion, providing a good demonstration of the application of research to resolve real-world problems.
TEGs have immense potential for recovering industrial waste heat, but existing versions face limitations because of their intrinsically brittle components and inefficient electricity conversion. Drawing on his expertise in chemical physics and materials engineering, Prof. Vellaisamy and his team developed an innovative solution by adopting a 3D microlattice structure made from partially carbonised materials. “This novel architecture results in greater mechanical durability, as well as higher heat-to-electricity conversion efficiency,” he explained. The details of this breakthrough TEG enhancement were published in the journal Nature Communications.
The enhanced efficiency and robustness of this redesigned microlattice TEGs make them uniquely suited for efficient waste heat harvesting in industrial settings, thus greatly improving energy sustainability. Prof. Vellaisamy’s practical innovation showcases how applied research can contribute to solve real-world problems, which is aligned with the University’s drive to have an important societal impact through innovations.
Beyond material engineering, Prof. Vellaisamy's research interest lies in Intelligent Systems. Currently, he is collaborating with S&T’s machine-learning team on diagnostic data analytics. “Materials engineering and intelligent systems intersect with various fields,” he explains. “At the molecular level, we engineer sensors, which produce a lot of data. Colleagues with a machine-learning background help analyse the data using AI, and the results are fed back to our systems to make them intelligent.”
Prof. Vellaisamy also champions leveraging cross-disciplinary synergies for maximum societal benefit. Although his lab at the University is still being set up, he is already leading an interdisciplinary cardiovascular disease diagnosis project with the School of Nursing and Health Studies and the School of Arts and Social Sciences. “To deliver meaningful real-world influence quickly, I believe that collaboration will facilitate higher proficiency in research to have a fast, meaningful impact,” he says. “In parallel, I am collaborating with the School of Nursing and Health Studies to recruit participants to test the device and gather data, and colleagues in the School of Arts and Social Sciences to design surveys to gauge end-users' perspectives for refinement.”
Looking forward, as head of S&T’s molecular electronics group, Prof. Vellaisamy will continue to contribute to the University's research areas and create more cross-departmental synergies to have a greater social impact through meaningful research.