Converting heat into electricity with pencil and paper | 2/19/2018 | Staff
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Thermoelectric materials can use thermal differences to generate electricity. Now there is an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way of producing them with the simplest tools: a pencil, photocopy paper, and conductive paint. These are sufficient to convert a temperature difference into electricity via the thermoelectric effect, which has now been demonstrated by a team at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.

The thermoelectric effect was discovered almost 200 years ago by Thomas J. Seebeck. If two metals of different temperatures are brought together, they can develop an electrical voltage. This effect allows residual heat to be converted partially into electrical energy. Residual heat is a by-product of almost all technological and natural processes, such as in power plants and household appliances, not to mention the human body. It is also one of the most under-utilised energy sources in the world.

Effect - Metals - Metals - Conductivity - Conductivity

However, as useful an effect as it is, it is extremely small in ordinary metals. This is because metals not only have high electrical conductivity, but high thermal conductivity as well, so that differences in temperature disappear immediately. Thermoelectric materials need to have low thermal conductivity despite their high electrical conductivity. Thermoelectric devices made of inorganic semiconductor materials such as bismuth telluride are already being used today in certain technological applications. However, such material systems are expensive and their use only pays off in certain situations. Researchers are exploring whether flexible, nontoxic organic materials based on carbon nanostructures, for example, might also be used in the...
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