Researchers develop improved thermoelectric material to turn heat into power


Thermoelectric materials feature to convert temperature difference between two planes into electricity. Wearable electronics or sensors are some objects that can be powered using organic thermoelectric materials. However, the power output of these materials is quite low.

In a bid to develop an improved material, a team of researchers at the University of Groningen has produced an n-type organic semiconductor. The semiconductor features superior properties in order to bring the power output of wearable electronics a big step closer.

In fact, launched in 1977, both Voyager space probes, the thermoelectric generator is the only man-made power source outside our solar system. Powered by generators to convert heat into electric current, these thermoelectric generators are now in interstellar space. One remarkable feature of these thermoelectric generators is that they are solid-state devices that do not have moving parts. 

Brittleness, Rigid some drawbacks of Inorganic thermoelectric materials

Meanwhile, inorganic thermoelectric materials contain toxic or very rare elements. Therefore, inorganic thermoelectric material used in Voyager’s generators are not suitable for mundane applications. Furthermore, they are usually brittle and rigid. This is a key reason behind increasing interest to develop organic thermoelectric materials. However, organic thermoelectric materials have their own problems.

Among a slew of thermoelectric materials, phonon glass is an optimal one. It has a very low thermal conductivity and also has an electron crystal with high electrical conductivity. Further, low electrical conductivity is another problem with organic semiconductors.

Nonetheless, in over a decade of experience to develop organic photovoltaic materials, the team at the University of Groningen has led for a better organic thermoelectric material. They focus of the team was n-type semiconductor with a negative charge.

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