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Types of Materials for Harvesting Energy from Heat

This entry was posted in TE materials , thermoelectric technology and Technical Library on February 07, 2019 by II-VI Marlow Industries

What do you know about how a thermoelectric generator is constructed? Do you understand the Seebeck and Peltier Effects? What about how thermoelectric technology can be applied in different industries? Ok, last question. What do you know about the materials used in the construction of these devices?

Researchers are actively searching for ways to create thermoelectric materials that harvest heat, converts it into electricity, and uses that electricity to power devices and appliances, removing the need for recharging and changing batteries. Finding and testing the right conducting materials is essential to eventually creating the most functional thermoelectric devices.

3 Types of Thermoelectric Materials

  1. Inorganic
  2. Organic
  3. Hybrid


The most conductive materials are inorganic, some of the most notable being bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3) and Silicon-germanium. An inorganic material is one that does not contain a carbon and hydrogen atom. Materials like these are strong and can convert heat into electricity very efficiently, but are not very flexible. This makes their application to smaller, wearable devices much more difficult. Notably, scientists have found ways to increase the flexibility of inorganic materials.


Organic materials on the other hand, almost always contain carbon and involve polymers. While these materials are light and malleable, they are much less efficient at conducting heat and converting it into electricity. Scientists hope that by changing the composition and length of the polymers’ molecules, they can improve their electrical conductivity.


Often times with science and creating new technology, you have to compromise. It’s all about problem solving and finding the best solution at the time. This takes a lot of testing and failure, but the pay-off turns into things like self-charging watches and air-conditioned motorcycle helmets. Hybrid materials are created by blending together organic and inorganic materials in search of an optimal composition with mixing processes.

In a bid to reduce the amount of time spent finding new materials, researchers in Japan have found a way to quickly and successfully identify superconducting materials for thermoelectric technologies using a large database. This approach can help in the identification of new materials that harbor the ability to work at ambient temperatures and conducting electricity over vast distances with no loss of energy.

While scientists are busy finding new ways to apply thermoelectric technology in new ways, II-VI Marlow devices have many applications for a variety of different commercial industries. Our device capabilities range from low-power wireless sensors to large-scale electricity generation.

If you have a thermoelectric challenge, contact our experts via the link below.

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