Innovation That Matters

A new flexible thermoelectric device can wrap around pipes and other hot surfaces and convert wasted heat into | Photo source Penn State

A new device turns waste heat into electricity 

Agriculture & Energy

The flexible thermoelectric generator can be wrapped around pipes and other hot surfaces

Spotted: Researchers at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have been studying ways of improving thermoelectric generators.

Thermoelectric generators, also known as Seebeck generators, are devices that can turn temperature fluctuations into electricity. The research team developed a flexible generator that can be wrapped around hot surfaces such as pipes, converting heat that would otherwise be wasted into electricity.

“Think about an industrial power plant with pipes hundreds of feet long,” explains said Shashank Priya, associate vice president for research and professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State. “If you can wrap these devices around an area that large, you could generate kilowatts of energy from wasted heat that’s normally just being thrown away. You could convert discarded heat into something useful.”

A trial carried out on a gas flue showed that the new device has a 150 per cent higher power density than other state-of-the-art units. Following this initial test, a scaled up version maintained a 115 per cent power density advantage and produced 56.6 watts when placed on a hot surface.

Other recent innovations that explore new ways of producing electricity include a device that turns vibrations from traffic into electricity, and magnetisable road concrete for electric charging.

Written By: Katrina Lane



Download PDF