UNIST engineers thermoelectric material in paintable liquid form

Schematics illustrate the fabrication of painted thermoelectric devices
A new study, led by Professor Jae Sung Son of Materials Science and Engineering at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), has succeeded in developing a technique that can be used to turn industrial waste heat into electricity for vehicles and other applications.

In their study, the team presented a new type of high-performance thermoelectric (TE) materials that possess liquid-like properties. These materials are both shape-engineerable and geometrically compatible in that they can be directly brush-painted on almost any surface.

The TE effect is the direct conversion of temperature differences to electric voltage and vice versa. This effect can be used either for heating or for cooling, such as in small cooling systems, automotive cooling systems, as well as waste heat recovery systems in ships. In addition, the TE generator modules used in these devices are configured as rectangular parallelepipeds.

The output power of TE generators depends on device engineering minimising heat loss, as well as inherent material properties. According to the research team, currently existing liquid-like TE materials have been largely neglected due to the limited flat or angular shape of devices.

However, considering that the surface of most heat sources where these planar devices are attached is curved, a considerable amount of heat loss is inevitable. To address this issue, the research team presented the shape-engineerable thermoelectric painting technique where they directly brush TE paints onto the surface of heat sources to produce electricity.

To show the feasibility of the technology, they also fabricated TE generators through painting TE paints on flat, curved and large-sized hemispherical substrates, demonstrating that it is the most effective means of heat energy collection from any heat sources with an output power density of 4.0mW/cm2, which is said to be the best value among the reported printed TE generators.

“By developing integral thermoelectric modules through painting process, we have overcome limitations of flat thermoelectric modules and are able to collect heat energy more efficiently.” said prof Son. “Thermoelectric generation systems can be developed as whatever types user want and cost from manufacturing systems can also be greatly reduced by conserving materials and simplifying processes.”

Author
Tom Austin-Morgan

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