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Nano Lett. 2012 Jun 13;12(6):2833-8. doi: 10.1021/nl3003039. Epub 2012 May 2.

Pyroelectric nanogenerators for harvesting thermoelectric energy.

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School of Material Science and Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0245, United States.


Harvesting thermoelectric energy mainly relies on the Seebeck effect that utilizes a temperature difference between two ends of the device for driving the diffusion of charge carriers. However, in an environment that the temperature is spatially uniform without a gradient, the pyroelectric effect has to be the choice, which is based on the spontaneous polarization in certain anisotropic solids due to a time-dependent temperature variation. Using this effect, we experimentally demonstrate the first application of pyroelectric ZnO nanowire arrays for converting heat energy into electricity. The coupling of the pyroelectric and semiconducting properties in ZnO creates a polarization electric field and charge separation along the ZnO nanowire as a result of the time-dependent change in temperature. The fabricated nanogenerator has a good stability, and the characteristic coefficient of heat flow conversion into electricity is estimated to be ∼0.05-0.08 Vm(2)/W. Our study has the potential of using pyroelectric nanowires to convert wasted energy into electricity for powering nanodevices.

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