Thermoelectric power has always been one of those fringe fields - bubbling with potential applications but always a few steps away from proper application. But a group of Danish students and flatpack firm Ikea are teaming up to finally bring that tech to the mainstream with by using excess heat to power your smart devices.
Those students, based at the Copenhagen Institute of Technology, have been working with Ikea in a specially-funded lab called Studio10 and their take on thermoelectic power, entitled Heat Harvest, has some exciting commercial potential. Items such as laptops consume around 40 watts of electricity, but the heat that generates is usually lost. Heat Harvest would absorb that heat through a special pad and drive it through a thermoelectic generator.
In theory, the tech could essentially power a device by the latent heat of its own operation - but in application, it's a little more complicated. Thermoelectic power has remained on the fringe because finding the right material for the process (one that conducts electricity and heat in the right ratio) remains a mystery for mass-market production. "This is a concept that’s been well-known for 200 years,” comments Sergey Komardenkov, one of the students involved in Heat Harvest. “but recent developments in nanotech make it a more efficient option to harvest energy back from heat.” So you never know, you could be using that grande cinnamon latte to power your phone in the near future. Other flavours of coffee will probably suffice, too.
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