Researchers Develop Novel Thermoelectric Device Using Carbon Nanotubes

A research team from the Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials has developed a thermoelectric device called Power Felt, which is capable of transforming body heat to an electrical current.

Wake Forest graduate student Corey Hewitt holds a piece of Power Felt developed in the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials. (credit: Wake Forest University)

Power Felt comprises carbon nanotubes confined in flexible plastic fibers and provides a fabric-like feel. It utilizes the difference in temperatures to generate a charge. The research findings have been reported in Nano Letters.

The novel thermoelectric device can be used for collecting heat from roof tiles or insulating pipes to reduce electric or gas bills, lining automobile seats to service electrical needs and improve battery power, covering IV or wound spots to better track the medical needs of patients, and lining sports equipment or clothing to monitor performance.

Cost is the major issue that prevents the widespread use of thermoelectrics in consumer products. Typical thermoelectric devices utilize bismuth telluride, which is an expensive material. However, Power Felt is affordable, according to the research team. At present, 72 nanotube layers stacked in the fabric deliver a power of 140 nW. The team is now working on ways to make even thinner nanotube layers and incorporate more number of layers into the fabric in order to increase the power output.

Corey Hewitt, one of the researchers, believes that a more-efficient Power Felt that is capable of powering an iPod is definitely within reach. Wake Forest University is in discussions with investors for the commercialization of Power Felt.


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