Thermoelectrics have the potential to convert heat directly into electricity and could be ideal for distributed power generation. However, due to cost, manufacturability, abundance, and material performance, the full potential of thermoelectrics has yet to be realized. While great advances attributed primarily to a reduction in thermal conductivity have been made in the last decade, thermoelectric materials have much room for improvement.
Figure 1: Comparison between a best-in-class polymer (dedoped PEDOT:PSS) and a conventional inorganic (Bi2Te3)
Conducting polymers have the potential to be used as thermoelectric material with the properties of best in class polymers rivaling conventional inorganic thermoelectrics. The major distinction that sets polymer-based materials apart is their inherently low thermal conductivity and low manufacturing cost. This allows for new device architectures with lower $/W costs than conventional thermoelectric devices. Furthermore, optimized polymer materials will tend to have a thermopower that is smaller than their conventional inorganic counterparts. As a result, more couples are required in polymeric devices. These new architectures must also have clever fabrication and interconnect schemes between couples.
Figure 2: Illustration of thin-film interconnect scheme to minimize metalization resistance and allow for rapid parallelism.
Finally, optimizing the polymer device architecture for the lowest $/W costs based on the manufacturing and heat exchanger consideration suggests that polymer devices can greatly undercut the costs of even higher performing conventional inorganic thermoelectric devices.
Figure 3: Cost comparison of different thermoelectric options.