Year/Course: 2019-2020, Lent 2020

Inventors: Dr. Sohini Kar-Narayan, Materials Science & Metallurgy
Mentor: Dr. Rob Wilkinson

The inventor has been working on novel materials which can capture heat and convert it to electricity, with the aim of enabling small devices (such as Internet of Things devices or sensors) to remove the need for batteries and instead be “powered on the go”.

Traditional thermoelectric materials are inorganic semiconductors which are rigid and expensive and energy-intensive to make. The performance of thermoelectric materials is very temperature-dependent, so they will generate the most electricity only within a narrow temperature range.

The alternative to these are organic thermoelectric materials which can be grown from solution and used to make flexible devices. However organic thermoelectric materials typically have a much lower performance than the inorganic materials.

The new materials are thermoelectric nanoelectric composites. This means that they are organic thermoelectric materials containing nanoparticles of inorganic thermoelectric materials. The inventor has developed methods of manufacture which use industrial aerosol jet printers and can vary the composition of the materials to give the maximum thermoelectric response at different temperatures. These materials can be made stretchable as well as flexible, for example allowing them to wrap around hot water pipes and make use of low grade waste heat sources.

The challenge for the i-Team is to identify the possible real-world uses of this energy harvesting technique and recommend where the inventor should focus her commercialisation efforts to have maximum impact.