Thin Films Power Electronics Mixed In Fabrics

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reported significant advances in the thermoelectric performance of organic semiconductors based on carbon nanotube thin films that could be integrated into fabrics to convert waste heat into electricity or serve as a small power source.

The research demonstrates significant potential for semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) as the primary material for efficient thermoelectric generators, rather than being used as a component in a “compositethermoelectric material containing, for example, carbon nanotubes and a polymer. The discovery is outlined in the new Energy & Environmental Science paper, Large n- and p-type thermoelectric power factors from doped semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotube thin films.

There are some inherent advantages to doing things this way,” said Jeffrey Blackburn, a senior scientist in NREL’s Chemical and Materials Science and Technology center and co-lead author of the paper with Andrew Ferguson. These advantages include the promise of solution-processed semiconductors that are lightweight and flexible and inexpensive to manufacture. Other NREL authors are Bradley MacLeod, Rachelle Ihly, Zbyslaw Owczarczyk, and Katherine Hurst. The NREL authors also teamed with collaborators from the University of Denver and partners at International Thermodyne, Inc., based in Charlotte, N.C.

Ferguson, also a senior scientist in the Chemical and Materials Science and Technology center, said the introduction of SWCNT into fabrics could serve an important function for “wearable” personal electronics. By capturing body heat and converting it into electricity, the semiconductor could power portable electronics or sensors embedded in clothing.


How To convert Your Waste Heat Into Electricity

A mathematical model of heat flow through miniature wires could help develop thermoelectric devices that efficiently convert heat — even their own waste heat — into electricity.

Developed at A*STAR (Singapore), the model describes the movement of vibrations called phonons, which are responsible for carrying heat in insulating materials. Phonons typically move in straight lines in nanowires — threads barely a few atoms wide. Previous calculations suggested that if parts of a nanowire contained random arrangements of two different types of atoms, phonons would be stopped in their tracks. In actual alloy nanowires, though, atoms of the same element might cluster together to form short sections composed of the same elements.

phononsPhonons (vibrations) are typically responsible for carrying heat along a nanowire. A*STAR researchers have used a numerical model to calculate the effects of short-range ordering on phonon behaviour.

Now, Zhun-Yong Ong and Gang Zhang of the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing in Singapore have calculated the effects of such short-range order on the behavior of phonons1. Their results suggest that heat conduction in a nanowire does not just depend on the relative concentrations of the alloy atoms and the difference in their masses; it also depends on how the atoms are distributed.