Between 50% and 60% of energy consumed in the United States is lost to the environment as waste heat, and only a negligible fraction of this heat, less than 0.2%, is converted back to electrical power. Harvesting waste heat through solid-state devices offers significant energy opportunities for improved energy efficiency. Thermoelectric devices directly convert heat into electricity using solid-state materials with no moving parts, thereby avoiding many mechanical failure mechanisms. However, the current materials and methods for manufacturing thermoelectric generators is not cost effective, due in part to the rigid substrate which limits the large-area application of the technology. Recapturing wasted heat without costly heat transfer systems would be facilitated by the development of inexpensive, scalable thermoelectric devices on flexible substrates.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is developing high performance, low-cost thermoelectric devices on flexible substrates that will enable the capture of low-temperature waste heat (100°C to 250°C), an abundant and difficult-to-harness energy resource. PARC's innovative manufacturing process is based on their co-extrusion printing technology which can simultaneously deposit different materials at high speed thereby facilitating fast, large-area production at low cost. Flexible thermoelectric devices will broaden their utility to applications on non-flat surfaces such as wrapping heat transfer piping. Additionally, since thermoelectrics can be applied directly onto most waste heat sources, expensive heat exchangers to transfer heat to a generator are unnecessary. PARC’s existing co-extrusion printing technology, paired with partner Novus Energy’s nanomaterials, is uniquely suited for the development of Large Area Thermoelectric Generator (LATEG) technology on flexible substrates, as it allows for the optimization of microscale device structures while maintaining the nanoscale properties of the materials through a process that is scalable to low cost, large-area manufacturing. If successful, development and deployment of efficient flexible thermoelectric technologies would enable recapture of a large amount of wasted energy in the U.S. industrial sector.