Thermoelectrics – conduct electricity well but heat badly

Today thermoelectrics let you keep your car seat at the right temperature. In the future they might make everything more efficient.Usually, heat and electric conductivity go hand in hand. Now, thanks to the emerging nanostructure technology movement, scientists think they can separate these two.

“Thermoelectric devices are based on the fact that when certain materials are heated, they generate a significant electrical voltage. Conversely, when a voltage is applied to them, they become hotter on one side, and colder on the other. The process works with a variety of materials, and especially well with semiconductors — the materials from which computer chips are made.”

Previously thermoelectric devices were far too inefficient to be of use. But by adding nanoscale structures a few billionths of a metre across, the heat conductivity of a material can be disrupted whilst the electricity passes through fine, ramping the efficiency up massively. Imagine a computer chip that doesn’t get heated as it works, or a solar cell that uses heat as well as light to generate electricity. Thermo electrics are already starting to get efficient enough to cool your car seathow soon before they start to be used in the growing low energy pc market?

[via ScienceDaily, image from ]

2 thoughts on “Thermoelectrics – conduct electricity well but heat badly”

  1. It also looks to be somewhat flexible, which may go a ways towards wearable computing. Though can’t be sure from the photo if it’s just the stiff pads that do the H/C.

  2. Almost sounds like perpetual motion — electricity to jump-start the PC, which produced heat in the chips, which produces electricity that the chips can use in the computer operations and turn it into heat that produces electricity . . ..

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