Material can generate electricity through heat difference

1 min read

The discovery of a new material by University of Utah engineers could one day enable jewellery and body heat to generate enough electricity to power a body sensor, or enable a cooking pan to charge a cell phone.

The team found that a combination of the chemical elements calcium, cobalt and terbium can create an efficient, inexpensive and bio-friendly material that can generate electricity through a thermoelectric process involving heat and cold air. The material is said to need less than a one-degree difference in temperature to produce a detectable voltage.

For years, researchers have been looking for the right kind of material that makes the process more efficient and produces more electricity, but other cadmium-, telluride- or mercury-based materials are toxic to humans.

"There are no toxic chemicals involved," promises Professor Ashutosh Tiwari. "It's very efficient and can be used for a lot of day-to-day applications."

According to the professor, the applications for this new material are endless. It could be built into jewellery that uses body heat to power implantable medical devices such as blood-glucose monitors or heart monitors. It could be used to charge mobile devices through cooking pans, or in cars where it draws from the heat of the engine. Airplanes could generate extra power by using heat from within the cabin versus the cold air outside. Power plants also could use the material to produce more electricity from the escaped heat the plant generates.