A new thermoelectric material has been invented at the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at wake Forest University. It’s been called Power Felt, and its creators hope that one day it will revolutionize the way we power small appliances and devices like cell phones by using temperature differences.
Power Felt is made from carbon nanotubes locked up in flexible plastic fibers. The fabric-like texture will make the Power Felt technology embeddable into various textile materials that may even harness a car engine’s lost heat to convert it into electricity.
“We waste a lot of energy in the form of heat. For example, recapturing a car’s energy waste could help improve fuel mileage and power the radio, air conditioning or navigation system,” says researcher and Wake Forest graduate student Corey Hewitt. “Generally thermoelectrics are an underdeveloped technology for harvesting energy, yet there is so much opportunity.”
The applications are countless, ranging from lining car seats to powering on-field medical devices or even during natural disasters such as hurricanes.
Price has always been an issue for themoelectric devices, ever since they had been invented. Because modern thermoelectrics use bismuth telluride, which costs around $1,000 per kilogram, they had traditionally been avoided and replaced with other solutions or excluded from any energy-recovering schemes, since the power they would have produced would not have covered their own costs.
Although there’s a lot of time until we see the Power Felt on the market, Hewitt envisions all these wonderful applications and how his invention will change the world (or, at least, the way we power our phones).