SEOUL -- A state research body has developed a 3D printing technique that can create thermoelectric modules that are about the size of a small pea. The tiny thermoelectric generating unit is very affordable and can be used in small devices. A thermoelectric generator is a solid-state device that converts heat flux (differences in temperatures) directly into electrical energy and enables the collection of lost heat energy to create electricity.
Thermoelectric modules are largely used in extreme environments to power micro sensors and other devices that require little electricity. Thermoelectric devices are also effective in cooling extra small electrical devices in confined places because they cool down the device they are attached to during the heat-electricity conversion process. Normally, thermoelectric modules are in the shapes of long filaments or sandwich panels to increase the surface area and maximize their generating ability.
The Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) said in a statement on September 1 that its researchers have developed a technique to produce thermoelectric microarchitectures using a special three-dimensional direct ink writing method that allows the creation of delicate microarchitectures using special filaments.
The 3D printing method uses special high-viscosity thermoelectric ink, which is a compound of thermoelectric material particles. Researchers found the right distribution rate of particles to give the ink maximized high-viscosity characteristics. Using the ink, researchers were able to create a micro thermoelectric generating device that has the generating capability of 479 microwatts per one square centimeter.
"Using the newly developed technique, we can produce affordable 3D-shaped micro thermoelectric generating modules," UNIST researcher Sohn Jae-sung was quoted as saying. The 3D printing technique can create bigger modules with filaments stacked like a building.
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