New Thermoelectric Paint Could Power Your Home

Researchers in South Korea have developed a thermoelectric paint capable of converting heat into electricity.

No one wants to spend an entire weekend painting their living room - but what if the paint you were using could also power your house?

Scientists have found a way to create thermoelectric paint capable of converting heat into electricity, according to new research published in Nature.

Sung Hoon Park led a team of researchers from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), and the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute in creating thermoelectric paint along with an application technique that captures more waste heat than conventional thermoelectric materials.

Most thermoelectric devices are very flat and unmalleable. When they are attached to objects like engines or refrigerators that emit large amounts of heat, losing a significant amount of this energy is unavoidable.

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On the other hand, this new thermoelectric paint provides complete surface coverage, preventing large amounts of heat from escaping. The paint contains bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3), which is used in most thermoelectric materials, but the research team also added molecular sintering aids that cause the particles to fuse together.

Once the paint is applied and has been heated for 10 minutes at 450 °C (840 °F), its density increases, making it much more efficient at energy conversion. In fact, tests show this paint is more efficient than any other thermoelectric material that is based on inks and pastes. The researchers expect it to be particularly valuable at capturing waste heat during summer months, when roofs and walls tend to reach temperatures of 50 °C (122 °F).

The findings indicate that this paint can also be used effectively on cars and ships, and that it can be manufactured at an affordable price.

"This approach has a potential for cost-effective manufacturing of well-designed TE (thermoelectric) devices depending on heat sources," the authors wrote in the study.

The technology could go even further one day and be used in a variety of other devices.

"We strongly believe that the currently developed technology can be easily transferred to other communities such as 3-D printed electronics and painted electronic artworks," the authors wrote.

The team expects to actively develop these types of applications in the near future.

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