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Paint Converts Solar Heat to Electricity

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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A new paint technology is being touted for its ability to harness and repurpose the heat collected by large exposed surfaces like ships, buildings and cars.

Researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) and the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute have developed a thermoelectric paint that promises to capture the waste heat from hot painted surfaces and convert it into electrical energy.

"For example, the temperature of a building's roof and walls increases to more than 50 degrees Celsius in the summer," study co-author and researcher Jae Song Son told "If we apply thermoelectric paint on the walls, we can convert huge amounts of waste heat into electrical energy."

Professor Son
Photos: Courtesy of UNIST

The paintable liquid material was developed by researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) and the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute.

The team recently published its findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Paint that can be used to produce power is not a novel concept; photovoltaic paint or “paint-on solar cells” has been in the works for years. However, this thermoelectric paint technology is different.

Features, Applications

The team’s paint combines bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3) with molecular sintering aids and can be applied with a brush to flat or curved surfaces, making possible applications wide ranging.

It differs from conventional thermoelectric materials, which are typically fabricated as flat, rigid chips, explains.


This figure shows a comparison of power generation between the conventional planar-structured thermoelectric generator and the painted thermoelectric generator on a curved heat source.

“These devices are then attached to irregular-shaped objects that emit waste heat, such as engines, power plants, and refrigerators,” the report says. “However, the incomplete contact between these curved surfaces and the flat thermoelectric generators results in inevitable heat loss, decreasing the overall efficiency.”

Competitive Results

On the other hand, the new thermoelectric paint can be applied to any heat source, regardless of shape, type and size, said Son. Further, the material tests indicate a high output power density (4 mW/cm2 for in-plane type devices and 26.3 mW/cm2 for through-plane type devices). reports that the results are competitive with conventional thermoelectric materials and better than all thermoelectric devices based on inks and pastes.

“[The paint] will place itself as a new type of new and renewable energy generating system,” said Son.

The study was supported by the R&D Convergence Program of National Research Council of Science & Technology (NST); the Global Frontier Project and New Researcher Support Program by the National Research Foundation (NRF); and the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) of South Korea.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Automotive coatings; Coating Materials; Coatings Technology; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); High-heat coatings; Latin America; North America; Research and development; Roof coatings; Ships and vessels; Solar; Solar energy

Comment from Ricardo Kairalla, (3/21/2017, 9:42 AM)

Bismuth and Telurium are relatively rare metals; the idea is very interesting but should be very expensive using these metals.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/22/2017, 9:01 AM)

So with a quick Google search I found Bismuth (99.99%) for $6/lb and Tellurium (99.95%) for $9/lb Apparently Te had a big price spike in 2011 when CdTe solar panels first became popular, but it's back down. Doesn't seem like cost of the raw materials will be an issue.

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