MechChem Africa

Harry Zervos, principal analyst, IDTechEx in Florida, USA, explains what's hype and what's reality, in thermoelectrics and its potential in energy harvesting applications.

Whereto for thermodynamicsAlthough thermoelectric phenomena have been used for heating and cooling applications quite extensively, electricity generation has only seen a very limited market in niche applications – and it is only in recent years that interest has increased regarding new applications of energy generation through thermoelectric harvesting. The new applications are varied and the vertical markets benefiting from new devices range from condition monitoring in industrial environments, smart metering in energy market segments, to thermoelectric applications in terrestrial and other vehicles.

In the last few years, companies have filed for bankruptcy, or moved away from the energy harvesting and power generation space to other markets. Others have seen identified applications turn out to be more difficult to commercialise than initially hoped. Realising the hard times ahead, they are trying to identify low hanging fruit and applications that can see them through the hardship. Those best prepared for these conditions will survive and enjoy a market that could reach almost US$1.5-billion by 2027, according to IDTechEx Research's latest report on the topic, ‘Thermoelectric Energy Harvesting 2018-2028’.

This report gives an overview of devices, materials and manufacturing processes, with a specific focus on emerging technologies that allow for new functionality, form factor and application in various demanding environments. Whether it is operation in high temperatures or corrosive environments; applications with increased safety demands; or components that need to be thin, flexible, or even stretchable, there is a lot of research and development work worldwide, which the report highlights.

As for the news from the wearables front, it doesn't seem too rosy either. Thermoelectric energy harvesting in consumer electronic devices is still the market that most developers would like to address, but it is largely at the conceptual stage. The idea here is that the temperature difference between ambient air and the human body will generate enough power for some electronic devices: to perform a sensing measurement and to transmit the data, for instance.

Click to download and read the pdf.

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