Researchers use 3D printing of Cu2Se thermoelectric materials for power generation

By Lim Chang-won Posted : June 16, 2021, 07:59 Updated : June 16, 2021, 07:59

[Courtesy of UNIST]

SEOUL -- Thermoelectric power generation offers a promising way to recover waste heat as it enables the direct conversion of heat to electricity without any environmental pollution. The thermoelectric effect refers to phenomena by which either a temperature difference creates an electric potential or an electric potential creates a temperature difference.

Thermoelectric (TE) materials are used in thermoelectric systems for cooling or heating and are being studied as a way to regenerate electricity from waste heat. However, thermoelectric materials have weak durability and are prone to structural damage. The geometrical design of thermoelectric legs in modules is important to ensure sustainable power generation but it cannot be easily achieved.

Kwon Beom-jin, a professor at Arizona State University, worked with a research team from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) to design cellular thermoelectric architectures for efficient and durable power generation with the extrusion-based 3D printing process of copper selenide (Cu2Se) thermoelectric materials.

The researchers designed the optimum aspect ratio of a cuboid thermoelectric leg to maximize power output and extend it to the mechanically stiff cellular architecture of hollow hexagonal column- and honeycomb-based thermoelectric legs.

"Our 3D printing approach has great application potential for the cost-effective manufacturing of well-designed TE modules, which can be easily transferred to other fields of electronic and energy devices," the research team said in its paper published on the website of Nature Communications, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Organic binder-free Cu2Se-based 3D-printing inks with desirable viscoelasticity were developed, the research team said, adding that computational simulation and experimental measurement demonstrated the superior power output and mechanical stiffness of cellular thermoelectric architectures to other designs, unveiling the importance of topological designs of thermoelectric legs toward higher power and longer durability.

"It can be applied to space and aviation technologies and automotive industries that require both lightweight and durability," Son Jae-sung, a UNIST professor of materials science and engineering, said in a statement.

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