Realising the Potential of Thermoelectric Technology: A Roadmap
All machines from jet engines to microprocessors generate heat, as do manufacturing processes ranging from steel to food production. Thermoelectric generators (TEGs) are solid-state devices able to convert the resulting heat flux directly into electrical power. TEGs therefore have the potential to offer a simple, compact route to power generation in almost every industrial sector. Here, in a Roadmap developed with wide-ranging contributions from the UK Thermoelectric Network and international partners, we present the science and technology that underpins TEGs. We outline how thermoelectric (TE) technology capable of generating power outputs from microwatts to tens/hundreds kW, and potentially to MW, can have an impact across a wide range of applications in powering devices, ranging from medical to building monitoring, the Internet of things, transportation and industrial sectors. The complementary application of TE technology in cooling affords additional opportunities in refrigeration and thermal management. Improved waste heat harvesting and recovery and more efficient cooling offer significant opportunities to reduce energy usage and CO2 emissions. We provide an overview of the key challenges associated with the development of new materials and devices that offer higher power output, while matching TE solutions to the wide range of applications that would benefit from energy harvesting. There is an existing supply chain to develop, manufacture and integrate thermoelectric devices into a broad range of end-user sectors all with global market potential: the full realisation of which will require new state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques to be embraced in order to drive down costs through high-volume manufacturing to widen the application base.