The concept of energy harvesting with flexible thermoelectrics shown with a schematic of aerosol jet printing. (Credit: Injung Le)

Researchers report the design and fabrication of single-wall carbon nanotube thermoelectric devices on flexible polyimide substrates as a basis for wearable energy converters.

Carbon nanotubes are one-dimensional materials, known for good thermoelectric properties, which mean developing a voltage across them in a temperature gradient. The researchers note that the challenge is that carbon nanotubes also have high thermal conductivity, meaning it’s difficult to maintain a thermal gradient across them, and they have been hard to assemble them into thermoelectric generators at low cost. The group uses printed carbon nanotube networks to tackle both challenges.

Thermoelectric devices generate electric power locally by reusing waste heat. The group’s approach demonstrates a path to using carbon nanotubes with printable electrodes on flexible polymer substrates in a process anticipated to be economical for large-volume manufacturing. It is also greener than other processes, because water is used as the solvent and additional dopants are avoided.

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