Imagine a body sensor powered by one's jewelry, or a cooking pan that charges a cell phone in a few hours.

Using a combination of the chemical elements calcium, cobalt, and terbium, University of Utah researchers created an efficient, inexpensive and bio-friendly material that generates electricity through a thermoelectric process involving heat and cold air.

Thermoelectric effect is a process where a material's temperature difference generates an electrical voltage. When one end of the material is hot and the other end is cold, charge carriers from the hot side move through the material to the cold side, creating the electromotive force. The material needs less than a one-degree difference in temperature to produce a detectable voltage.

Unlike cadmium-, telluride-, or mercury-based materials that are toxic to humans, the University of Utah material is bio-friendly and eco-friendly while still being efficient at generating electricity.

The Technology & Venture Commercialization Office of the University of Utah has filed a U.S. patent for the material, and the team will initially develop the product for use in cars and for biosensors, said lead researcher and University of Utah materials science and engineering professor Ashutosh Tiwari.

The possibilities for the material are "endless," according to Tiwari. A ring or other kind of jewelry, for example, could power devices like blood-glucose or heart monitors. Airplanes could generate extra power by using heat from within the cabin versus the cold air outside, and cars could use the power drawn from the engine's heat. Additionally, power plants could utilize the material to produce more electricity from the escaped heat generated by the plant.

“In power plants, about 60 percent of energy is wasted,” said University of Utah materials science and engineering postdoctoral researcher Shrikant Saini. “With this, you could reuse some of that 60 percent.”