NASA Langley developed a technology that harvests electrical energy utilizing a pyroelectric device that generates voltage when cyclically heated. The device consists of a pyroelectric material sandwiched between two electrodes, which in turn are contained within two thermally conductive protective layers, an electrical circuit designed to harvest the voltage generated thermally, and an energy storage unit.
The technology was designed to provide a small, renewable, and portable power source for spacecraft. Since it works on the principle of converting ambient waste heat to electrical energy for operating electronics, it can also be used in terrestrial applications such as powering electronics in motor vehicles and wireless sensor networks for Internet of Things (IOT) applications that experience thermal cycles, among other applications.
The technology will enable more efficient utilization of solar and thermal energy production through harvesting energy that is currently lost as waste heat. It has been demonstrated to produce electricity in the milliwatt range and requires further development to maximize power generation.