Wearable electronic devices, from health and fitness trackers to virtual reality headsets, are part of our daily lives. But finding ways to power these devices continuously is a challenge.
University of Washington researchers have developed an innovative solution: the first wearable, flexible thermoelectric device that converts body heat into electricity. This device is soft and stretchy, but powerful and efficient – properties that can be difficult to combine.
The team published these results on July 24 in advanced energy materials.
said Muhammad Malakoti, UW Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “We are leveraging additive manufacturing to manufacture stretchable electronics, increasing their efficiency and enabling their seamless integration into wearables while answering fundamental research questions.”
Even after more than 15,000 expansion cycles at 30% strain, the device prototype remains fully functional, a highly desirable feature for wearable electronics and soft robotics. The device also shows a 6.5 times increase in energy density compared to previous stretchable thermoelectric generators.
To create these flexible devices, the researchers 3D-printed composites with functional and synthetic-engineered properties on each layer. The filler material contains liquid metal alloys that provide high electrical and thermal conductivity. These alloys address limitations in previous devices, including the inability to expand, inefficient heat transfer and a complex manufacturing process.
The team also included hollow microspheres to direct heat to the semiconductor in the base layer and reduce the weight of the device.
The researchers showed that they could print these devices on stretchable textile fabrics and curved surfaces, suggesting that future devices could be applied to clothing and other objects. The team is excited about the future possibilities and real-world applications of wearable electronics.
“One unique aspect of our research is that it covers the full range, from material synthesis to device fabrication and characterization,” said Malakoti, who is also a researcher at the UW Institute for Nanoengineered Systems. “This gives us the freedom to design new materials, engineer each step in the process, and be creative.”
Yongchang Han, a master’s student in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, was the paper’s lead author. Leif-Erik Simonsen additional co-author.
The team develops a mechanism to control the operation, cooling and energy conversion of soft robots
Yongchang Han et al., Printing of liquid elastomer composites for high performance stretchable thermoelectric generators, advanced energy materials (2022). DOI: 10.1002 / aenm.202201413
Presented by the University of Washington
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