Using energy that is typically lost through friction could make many mechanical items more efficient.
Image Source: Flickr User: FeatheredTar

In many machines, whether vehicles or equipment on a production line, energy is lost via friction in the form of heat. This is energy that isn’t being used to do work, and ends up costing the user in some way, shape or form. But what if you could harness that heat and convert it to useable energy? Scientists in Korea have developed a paintable thermoelectric (TE) material that may be used to convert lost heat into useable electricity.1  This is a new technology that has a bounty of applications waiting to be explored. Modern lab software will be the key to refining the formulation of this newly developed material and exploring new functionality.

This Paints an Efficient Picture

The basis of this paint is Sb2Te3-based chalcogenidometalate (ChaM) for n-type BiTeSe and p-type BiSbTe TE particles, which are arguably recognized as the best TE materials at or near room temperature. These basic chemical properties may be hard to draw out from a host of candidates, but modern data-sorting lab software may assist scientists with quickly finding ideal substances.

The chemicals, ball-milled TE particles and Sb2Te3, are sonicated to form a paint, at which point it is painted onto a convex surface and subjected to heat treatment. In the first experiments, the ZT value, the measure of the thermoelectric effect, was observed to be as high as 0.67 and 1.21 for n- and p-type, respectively. This innovative concept presents the potential for advances in leaps and bounds beyond the typical planar devices that have been used in conjunction with non-planar and atypical surfaces.

Going the Distance

There have been a number of potential applications of TE materials posited over the past few years. Any of these may be reasonable as innovations continues in this field:

  • Cars: Researchers at Boise State University worked on a project that was funded by the US Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technology program, looking at using thermoelectric waste heat recovery to enhance fuel efficiency of vehicles.2 They used post catalytic converter heat exchangers to remove heat from the exhaust gases and then delivered it to TE devices. Investigations using modern lab software to tweak and change the formulation, researchers could save valuable time defining applicable materials.
  • Climate Control: It may be possible to use this technology for climate control applications. By recovering electricity from temperature gradients, it can create a positive or negative feedback loop which can work to change or maintain a desired temperature. One possible application is waste heat recovery in ships. Because ships have a large surface area, they could potentially be made more self-sufficient and energy efficient. Modern lab software can help scientists assess where and when this material could be used and if it would interfere with any of the regular operations of the ship.
  • Electronics: In recent months, problems with phones and other devices overheating have been frequently popping up. This problem, however, extends well beyond handheld devices. Servers, lasers and other power devices also overheat, causing problems. By using innovative software to reconfigure and model TE paint in electronics, researchers may have a solution. This would help improve consumer confidence and save manufacturers a lot of time and money on numerous fronts.3

With BIOVIA Materials Studio, comprehensive models can be created to allow researchers to better predict what will work both for adequate thermoelectric conductivity and material adherence-wise, bringing your research to the market faster. The new, more flexible formulation of TE material has ample potential and having software to support your discoveries will be key to ensuring that they are adequately tested, documented and are fully reproducible. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab.

  1. “High-performance shape-engineerable thermoelectric painting,” November 11, 2016,
  2. “Using waste heat to make cars more efficient,” November 18, 2013,
  3. “Thermal Conductivity of Copper Graphene Composite Films Synthesized by Electrochemical Deposition with Exfoliated Graphene Platelets,” November 10, 2011,