Printing Flexible Large Area Thermoelectric Generators

February 18, 2016 by Jeff Shepard

PARC, a Xerox company, today announced it has secured funding from ARPA-E in partnership with Novus Energy Technologies and Material Dynamics and Devices, Inc. (MDDI). The project is based on PARC's novel Co-Extrusion (CoEx) technology to demonstrate the fabrication of Large-Area Thermoelectric Generator (LATEG) modules through a scalable printing process that will result in a thermoelectric (TE) manufacturing process that is about 10 times cheaper than today's manufacturing methods.

“This research presents an opportunity to decrease the deployment of cost of energy harvesting devices targeting the capture of low-grade waste heat,” said PARC researcher and project lead, Ranjeet Rao, PhD. “An enormous amount of energy is lost because there is no cost-effective way to turn heat into electricity; it just escapes into the environment. TE generators are solid-state devices with no moving parts, and they turn temperature gradients directly into electricity. But, today’s TE devices are time and materials intensive to enable widespread use.”

CoEx, developed by PARC, is a technology for high speed printing of fine, high aspect ratio structures. CoEx, which has been applied to photovoltaic and lithium ion battery fields, uses advanced fluidic engineering to create finely patterned thick films from functional pastes. It is uniquely suited to fabricate large-area TE devices, because it can directly produce TE structures via a process that is scalable and low-cost. CoEx allows full module fabrication through direct deposition of both p- and n-type TE materials onto a substrate and is fully compatible with high-volume roll-to-roll manufacturing on flexible foils.

To complete the ARPA-E project, the team will leverage PARC’s deep expertise in large-area printing and the CoEx process for high-speed printing of functional materials. MDDI and Novus, both located in Research Triangle Park, NC, will bring their capabilities in high performance TE material synthesis, module development, and systems integration. With this unique set of capabilities, the team will demonstrate the feasibility of large-area energy harvesting devices capable of converting vast amounts of waste heat directly into electrical energy. This low-cost, large-area TE device will increase energy efficiency at a potential cost of under $0.4/W, which is a substantial improvement over the performance of conventional TE modules.

“Our low cost TE generators can be distributed over a large area, like outside of a boiler. Also, we will develop methods of printing our TE devices onto flexible substrates, allowing them to be placed around hot piping or ducting in otherwise difficult to access areas,” Rao concluded.

If successful, this technology will have dramatic implications for a range of industries that waste energy through heat loss, improving the overall utilization of power plants through increased capacity factors, the efficiency of energy intensive industrial operations, and reducing fuel consumption and associated emissions