Almost any surface can be turned into an electricity generator with a thermoelectric paint developed by South Korean researchers, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The thermoelectric effect is the conversion of temperature differences to electric voltage, or the conversion of an electric current to heat. Paint-like material containing conductive ingredients is not new, but the challenge in making it useful until now is that the device or surface to which it is applied must minimize heat loss in order for an electrical current to be generated, the researchers explained.
To address this issue, a team of researchers led by Professor Jae Sung Son of Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) developed a new type of high-performance thermoelectric material that behaves like a liquid and can be directly brush-painted on almost any surface. To demonstrate the feasibility of the thermoelectric paint, they used it on flat, curved and large-sized hemispherical substrates to create heat-capturing devices with high output power densities of up to 4 milliwatts per square centimeter.
“By developing integral thermoelectric modules through painting process, we have overcome limitations of flat thermoelectric modules and are able to collect heat energy more efficiently,” said Son. “[With this paint], thermoelectric generation systems can be developed however users want and cost from manufacturing systems can also be greatly reduced by conserving materials and simplifying processes.”
One potential application of the paint technology is as roof paint, essentially creating low-cost solar panels out of any surface.