Humans have moved one step closer to creating a device that could convert heat into a potential source of electricity.
In a world that relies so heavily on finite quantities of fossil fuels for our energy, alternative sources are increasingly important.
Now, a new study has made heat a more realistic solution, making the advances in solid-state thermodynamics required to turn the science fiction into reality.
Many mechanical and electrical devices, such as car engines, produce waste heat as a byproduct of their normal operation.
Postdoctoral researcher Stephen Boona, at Ohio State University, said: “Over half of the energy we use is wasted and enters the atmosphere as heat.”
It is this 50% or more that the team are hoping to harness as a source of electricity.
To date, the devices have been too expensive, and not quite efficient enough to warrant widespread use.
But the recent research was able to create a thicker material – that more closely resembles what a future device would look like – to amplify the voltage output ten times or more.
They’ve increased the output from a few nanovolts to tens or hundreds of nanovolts – meaning it can be readily scaled up for industry
While it is not yet part of a real world device, the team are confident that the proof-of-principle established by this study will inspire further research.