2019 - 2020


Project: Nanostructured fabrics for high performing flexible thermoelectric power Generator
Funding: Fons de Patents GÍNJOL (CERCA)
IREC Role: Coordinator
Main IREC Group: Nanoionics and Fuel Cells, Nerea Alayo


Executive summary

Internet of Things (IoT) represents the next step towards the digitization of our society and economy. Experts estimate that 50 billion things are connected by IoT now and 1 trillion sensors will be soon after. The current IoT market is expected to growth from $418B in 2020 to $1567B in 2025. Among the very diverse implementation scenarios for IoT, production plants are considered one of the first segments in adopting IoT technologies as key element for the emerging Industry 4.0, often with the goal of increasing automation, efficiency, and productivity. The imminent arrival of ubiquitous sensors in industrial settings demands maintenance-free, low cost, wireless and environmentally friendly solutions to power IIoT nodes. Currently, batteries are the dominant energy source for unwired power solutions. However, batteries capacity limitations and environmental issues remain an unresolved. E.U generated about 1,680,000 tons of waste batteries in 2016. The rapidly expanding number of battery powered IoT nodes will imply a serious critical material supply problem (e.g. lithium) and environmental sustainability problems. These batteries contain heavy metals, which are detrimental for the environment. At the end of their lifetime, batteries are hazardous waste due to the toxicity, ignitability and reactivity and need to be carefully and expensively disposed by the manufacturer or the user.

The combination of a broad presence of heat-waste with a major necessity of controlling the instruments and processes, makes thermoelectric energy generators (TEG) highly attractive for “place-and-forget” industrial IoT nodes. Thermoelectric effects enable direct conversion between thermal and electrical energy, thus heat harvesting will provide an alternative power generation. Unfortunately, commercial TEG present some limitations that prevent them from success, main limitations are the toxicity and high cost of the materials used for their production. POWERCOAT technology presented in this proposal is a revolutionary new high-performing cost-effective and environmentally friendly TE material. The POWERCOAT approach centers around nano-enabled easy-to-handle flexible fabrics made of thin-walled silicon microtubes. POWERCOAT fabric-like thermoelectrics adapt to any hot surfaces (usually round chimneys, unlike conventional flat batteries or TEGs), leading to a high performance and mechanical properties. The ongoing extension of POWERCOAT technology to room temperature will open the door to a large number of new markets. Agriculture, food industry and packaging are some of the highly interesting industrial IoT sectors that would benefit. Moreover, the biocompatibility of the silicon material, added to the flexibility of the fibers and the appropriate fluidics to allow transpiration will make them an excellent harmless everlasting power source for body wearables and implants.