Research Article

Giant thermopower of ionic gelatin near room temperature

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Science  05 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6495, pp. 1091-1098
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz5045

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Improving ionic thermoelectrics

Using ions as charge carriers in thermoelectric devices usually requires using either thermal diffusion or redox reactions at two electrodes with different temperatures. Han et al. leveraged both of these strategies to develop a gelatin-based ionic thermoelectric device that uses alkali salts and an iron-based redox couple to generate a large thermopower. This device is capable of generating useful amounts of energy from body heat.

Science, this issue p. 1091


Harvesting heat from the environment into electricity has the potential to power Internet-of-things (IoT) sensors, freeing them from cables or batteries and thus making them especially useful for wearable devices. We demonstrate a giant positive thermopower of 17.0 millivolts per degree Kelvin in a flexible, quasi-solid-state, ionic thermoelectric material using synergistic thermodiffusion and thermogalvanic effects. The ionic thermoelectric material is a gelatin matrix modulated with ion providers (KCl, NaCl, and KNO3) for thermodiffusion effect and a redox couple [Fe(CN)64–/Fe(CN)63–] for thermogalvanic effect. A proof-of-concept wearable device consisting of 25 unipolar elements generated more than 2 volts and a peak power of 5 microwatts using body heat. This ionic gelatin shows promise for environmental heat-to-electric energy conversion using ions as energy carriers.

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