You may not realize how much heat everyday objects give off. Your computer, television, or even your cup of tea – all of these radiate heat, but it’s wasted. For years, being able to turn this heat into electricity was a dream.
Now, with thermoelectric technology, it may be possible. New concepts, like generators built with nano-scale materials, are beginning to develop. Another concept is the approach of embedding this technology into furniture. Two design students, Sergey Komardenkov and Vihanga Gore, proposed this idea, Heat Harvest, and developed it at the Ikea-backed research center in Copenhagen, Space10. The result was an Ikea electric table that could absorb heat, and turn it into electricity.
As an example, a normal laptop would consume 40 watts of electricity, and emit the same amount of heat while it’s operating. An Ikea electric table equipped with Heat Harvest would use an embedded pad that would absorb that heat and run it through a small thermoelectric generator. The electricity generated would then be accessible through a wireless charging dock that is also on the table. In theory, you could put a hot drink down on the table and charge your phone at the same time.
You may be thinking, “The Ikea electric table isn’t a new concept,” but that idea is currently limited to wireless charge station kits that could be used to modify existing furniture. Thermodynamics, and the technology behind it, is much more complicated. It’s a concept that is well-known, but only recently has it become an efficient option to create electricity from heat. Materials that are both a good conductor of electricity and bad conductor of heat are traditionally rare and expensive.
Now, new companies like Alphabet Energy and Tellurex are developing cheaper options that use nanotechnology to limit the efficiency of heat conduction in semiconductors; this makes it possible to use them as thermoelectric generators. While an Ikea electric table for purchase may be a long time away, it’s encouraging to know that it’s a possibility, and not just a dream.