Thermoelectric generators (TEGs) convert ambient heat into electrical power. They enable maintenance-free, environmentally friendly, and autonomous power supply of the continuously growing number of sensors and devices for the Internet of Things (IoT) and recovery of waste heat. Scientists have now developed three-dimensional component architectures based on novel, printable thermoelectric materials.
Conventional TEGs must be assembled from individual components using relatively complex manufacturing methods. To avoid this, researchers developed two innovative processes and inks based on organic as well as inorganic nanoparticles. These processes and inks can be used to produce inexpensive, three-dimensional, printed TEGs.
The first process uses screenprinting to apply a 2D pattern onto an ultrathin flexible substrate foil using thermoelectric printing inks. Then, a generator about the size of a sugar cube is folded by means of an origami technique. The second process consists of printing a 3D scaffold to the surfaces of which the thermoelectric ink is applied.
The new production processes not only enable inexpensive scalable production of TEGs but also allow the component to be adapted to the applications.