Background

The basic concept of energy harvesting is to collect energy from solar or other free sources of thermal energy that exist in the environment and convert them to electricity. In principle, this technique could provide power from low quality sources of energy such as waste heat at low temperatures. A collaboration between LLNL and UCLA has demonstrated that a bulk compound thermoelectric laminate can convert thermal energy to electricity. If produced as a thin-film material and operated at high thermal cycling frequency the inventors believe that the power/gram produced by compound thermo-electrics prepared as thin films can potentially exceed that of current solar cells or other energy harvesting techniques.

Description

An LLNL and UCLA team has recently demonstrated a new compound material that can directly convert thermal energy to electrical energy. Basic research is required before this newly invented material can be produced in the form of a thin film and tested at high frequency. The team is interested in partnering with a company from basic research and development through production of a manufacturing prototype.

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Advantages

  • Obtain electricity from sources of "waste energy" rather than generated energy
  • Sources of thermal energy are available even when the sun is not shining. These include sources such as car engines, laptop computers or hot asphalt.
  • Scaled for very small devices and therefore provide less expensive continuous power
  • Continual source of power provides an uninterrupted power supply with no need to change batteries
Potential Applications

  • Provide power for small MEMS and NEMS devices.
  • Provide power for remote sensors, remote actuators, etc.
Development Status

This work is in an early stage of development, and will take significant joint research to bring to market. The inventors believe that the first task in a joint project should be the production of high quality thin films of the material. The LLNL/UCLA team would perform the basic research needed to understand the growth mechanisms under various thin-film techniques such as laser ablation and sputtering. The inventors plan to provide the partnership with basic property data and the effects of nano-crystalline structure using x-ray diffraction, magnetization, optical deflection and microscopy in order to achieve the production and processing of high quality films as well as the design of proof of principle devices at the MEMS scale. The inventors are also interested in developing other related compound materials which they have identified as potentially having enhanced performance in energy harvesting.

The energy harvesting system is described in US Patent 7,397,169.

Reference Number
12006
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