Science, Vol.370, No.6514, 342-+, 2020
Thermosensitive crystallization-boosted liquid thermocells for low-grade heat harvesting
Low-grade heat (below 373 kelvin) is abundant and ubiquitous but is mostly wasted because present recovery technologies are not cost-effective. The liquid-state thermocell (LTC), an inexpensive and scalable thermoelectric device, may be commercially viable for harvesting low-grade heat energy if its Carnot-relative efficiency (eta(r)) reaches similar to 5%, which is a challenging metric to achieve experimentally. We used a thermosensitive crystallization and dissolution process to induce a persistent concentration gradient of redox ions, a highly enhanced Seebeck coefficient (similar to 3.73 millivolts per kelvin), and suppressed thermal conductivity in LTCs. As a result, we achieved a high eta(r) of 11.1% for LTCs near room temperature. Our device demonstration offers promise for cost-effective low-grade heat harvesting.