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Thermoelectric micro-generator to obtain portable and sustainable energy

20th national competition for scientific and technical research

Climate Change and Renewable Energy

Senior Researcher : Olga Caballero Calero

Research Centre or Institution : Instituto de Micro y Nanotecnología - CNM - CSIC. Madrid


The objective of the MicroTENERGY project is the development of energy generators that transform waste heat into electrical energy (via the thermoelectric effect) to power microdevices. These generators are sustainable, flexible, respectful of the environment and autonomous. The aim is to replace with those generators the conventional batteries in devices where a heat source could serve to power the device. This technology should achieve, among other advantages, avoid the use of batteries which require periodic charging, avoid maintenance, since they do not have moving parts (and therefore, do not emit sound). Therefore, we could have permanently electrically powered micro-devices, such as sensors to monitor vital signs, that take advantage of heat sources, for instance our body heat, to generate the electricity they need to function.

In these first months of development, we have focused on the synthesis of different nanostructured thermoelectric meta-material manageable at the macro-scale. As it was stated in the proposal, scalable manufacturing methods are being preferably used, mainly electrochemical deposition. Firstly, networks of interconnected nanowires of thermoelectric material are being developed by growing the material inside nano-structured polymeric templates. Currently, the thermoelectric properties of nanostructured bismuth telluride grown inside polyester and cellulose matrices are being studied. In the first case, an intricate structure of interconnected nanowires is achieved, while the growth within the cellulose matrix generates a highly porous nanostructure. Both nanostructures are being studied in parallel, in order to reduce the thermal conductivity of the thermoelectric material, without harming its electrical transport properties, and to achieve greater thermoelectric conversion efficiency. Likewise, we have begun the studies regarding the electrical contacts of the device, where electrochemically grown nickel and gold layers on the thermoelectric material are being explored.

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