Silicon-Based Thermoelectrics

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OPEN 2009
Champaign, Illinois
Project Term:
03/01/2010 - 08/31/2012

Technology Description:

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is experimenting with silicon-based materials to develop flexible thermoelectric devices—which convert heat into energy—that can be mass-produced at low cost. A thermoelectric device, which resembles a computer chip, creates electricity when a different temperature is applied to each of its sides. Existing commercial thermoelectric devices contain the element tellurium, which limits production levels because tellurium has become increasingly rare. UIUC is replacing this material with microscopic silicon wires that are considerably cheaper and could be equally effective. Improvements in thermoelectric device production could return enough wasted heat to add up to 23% to our current annual electricity production.

Potential Impact:

If successful, UIUC's project would significantly improve domestic power generation by harnessing large amounts of wasted heat throughout the country.


Waste heat capture from the heating and cooling of vehicles could increase fuel economy by 10%, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.


Efficient waste heat capture could prevent nearly 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year, substantially reducing our impact on global climate change.


The thermoelectrics industry could grow to over $100 billion per year over the next several decades.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Ravi Prasher
Project Contact:
Dr. Sanjiv Sinha
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:



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