Polymer Nanocomposite Foams with Enhanced Thermoelectric Efficiencies
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Over the past decades, alternative sources of energy have been the subject of extensive research due to the scarcity of fossil fuels and international concerns on greenhouse gas emission. Considerable efforts have been focused on developing thermoelectric (TE) materials and their applications in waste heat recovery, power generation, and refrigeration. Thermoelectric generators (TEGs) can harvest energy by converting waste heat into electricity. The advantages of TE power generators include solid-state operation, maintenance-free with long life-span, and negligible emission of greenhouse gases. Conventional semiconducting TE materials, as todays TE materials of choice, have many disadvantages such as high cost, scarcity, and toxicity. In recent years, organic TE materials have attracted more attention because of their various advantages, such as light weight, low cost, flexibility, and simple synthesis. However, compared with their semiconducting counterparts, polymers have lower TE efficiencies, which have limited their applications. A fundamental challenge to improve the efficiency of polymeric TE materials is to simultaneously enhance their Seebeck coefficient and electrical conductivity while suppressing their thermal conductivity. In this context, the materials would have the electrical properties of a crystalline material and the thermal properties of an amorphous or glass-like material. The proposed research aims to develop micro-and-nano structuring strategies, as novel processing techniques, to design and fabricate organic materials with promising TE efficiencies for future TEGs. Achieving this objective requires decoupling the highly interconnected TE parameters. The main idea of this research is to decrease the thermal conductivity of the material system by introducing a cellular structure in the bulk of material. Furthermore, incorporating carbon nanoparticles as conducting fillers will help to improve the electrical conductivity of polymeric materials. As a result, the thermoelectric performance of the material system would be significantly enhanced. This study showed that microcellular foaming is highly effective in enhancing the TE efficiency of polymer nanocomposites. The result of this research suggests micro/nano-cellular foaming as a novel fabrication method to promote the TE efficiency of polymeric materials. The proposed method provides an opportunity to develop polymer-based materials, as an environmentally friendly alternative for their semiconducting counterparts, for green energy harvesting.